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Bath gaffe in 2018 was on Freddie Burns mind as thriller played out

By PA
Freddie Burns /PA

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Freddie Burns admitted he was still in shock after landing the “dead duck” of a drop goal that secured Leicester the Gallagher Premiership title with a dramatic 15-12 victory over Saracens.

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Burns’ winning kick wobbled between the posts with 22 seconds left in a blood and thunder final at Twickenham as the Tigers staged a determined drive downfield to give their replacement fly-half the best possible platform from which to strike.

Leicester had lost their general George Ford to a first-half ankle injury and Burns stepped up admirably in the climax to the first season of his second spell at Welford Road.

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“It was one of those where I was ecstatic to get it over. I managed to shin it over, it was like a dead duck going over but I don’t care, it went through!” said Burns, who was signed last summer from Japanese club rugby.

“It was gutting for George to come off so early. He’s been instrumental in how the team has gone this year.

“When I was running back celebrating, I looked up and saw there were still around 25 seconds on the clock.

“A few years ago I made a fool of myself celebrating too early (for Bath in 2018) and I didn’t want it to happen again so I tried to get the boys on it and luckily enough we cleared up that restart.

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“I’m in disbelief right now. I’m normally not short of words, but I can’t believe what’s happened.

“Japan was the best thing that happened to me. It allowed me to fall back in love with the game and check my ego.

“To have this moment with a group of players, who I couldn’t love any more, is special. I’m a bit all over the shop. I keep having this out-of-body experience.”

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Leicester led the Premiership from start to finish and – despite entering the final as underdogs – they showed the resilience needed to claim their 11th league title and first since 2013.

“We’ve been a team of fighters all year, we’ve shown that in numerous games. We knew this was going to be hard. I don’t think people really gave us much of a shot,” Burns said.

“Everyone was talking about Sarries’ big-game players, but I wouldn’t have swapped any of our boys for theirs. We kept fighting and kept fighting and we came out at the right end.”

Director of rugby Steve Borthwick has been the mastermind of Leicester’s resurgence and he suggested that winning the Premiership could be the start of a new Tigers dynasty.

“There’s a lot of growth in this team. The average age is 25 years old. The players are all really keen and want to get better,” Borthwick said.

Defeat saw Saracens’ quest for redemption – following their relegation in 2019 for repeated salary cap breaches – come apart at the final hurdle and director of rugby Mark McCall offered no excuses.

“Congratulations to Leicester, they have had a phenomenal season and been top of the league all year. They were the better team and deserved to win the match,” McCall said.

“They trapped us in our half for long periods and backed that up with brilliant defensive work. We were a bit suffocated. We didn’t get anywhere near our best.

“Hopefully we can use the pain that we’re going to feel over the next few days in a constructive way to come back stronger next summer.”

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