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'Correct decision': Freddie Burns quickly goes from hero to villain

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images)

Just 19 minutes of the new Gallagher Premiership season were needed for the title-clinching Freddie Burns to go from hero to villain for Leicester at Exeter on Saturday. The affable 32-year-old had stepped off the Twickenham bench 84 days earlier for the injured George Ford, going on to dramatically land the game-winning drop goal with seconds remaining in the final versus Saracens.

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Burns revelled in the limelight since then, quite rightly celebrating to the hilt the most joyous rugby moment of his lifetime. However, he was reminded just twelve weeks later how fickle the sport of rugby can be when the 2022/23 season got underway, shipping a yellow card, conceding a penalty try and then failing an interval HIA that ruled him out of playing the second half.

The scores were level at 3-all when Leicester got themselves into an early muddle when a Jimmy Gopperth kick from inside his own half was brilliantly charged down and subsequently kicked ahead.

This resulted in a frantic footrace between Burns and his opposite No10, Exeter’s Harvey Skinner, and it ended with the Leicester player being first to get to the ball as it tumbled behind the Sandy Park goal line.

However, rather than being the Leicester savour, it eventually turned out that the tidying-up intervention by Burns was illegal as he deliberately slapped the ball beyond the dead ball line and referee Christophe Ridley, following consultation with TMO David Rose, decided that it was a yellow card against the Tigers player and a penalty try for Exeter, putting the hosts 10-3 ahead. Here is how the decision was reached live on BT Sport:

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Ugo Monye: I think that needs checking. It’s a brilliant charge down and then the reaction of Exeter to turn that ball, the composure to send it backwards. Freddie Burns does really well to get it but he just knocks that out. That is a penalty try and yellow card in my opinion. You cannot hit the ball out.

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Lawrence Dallaglio: No doubt about that. Let’s have a listen to the referees talk us through that, but Freddie Burns quite clearly is not looking to ground it.

Ridley: Ten has deliberately batted that dead. Ten is going to the bin for that action. The question now is the ball is bouncing and the dynamics are so tight, let’s look at the position of the Exeter player and whether we think he probably would have scored… Just from that angle, the Exeter player is going to be the next player to get to that ball if not for the ten’s actions.

Dallaglio: Absolutely the correct decision, the first try of the game and it’s a lovely bit of skill and vision. The Exeter dead ball area, look at the size of it, it’s enormous and Freddie Burns was always going to have to make up ground. Correct decision and we will see whether the Chiefs can capitalise even further.

Exeter initially didn’t as the match remained scoreless while Burns was in the sin bin, and he was to return after his enforced period of rest to kick a Leicester penalty and cut the margin to 10-6.

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However, the Chiefs went on to fare better nearing the end of the first half, scoring their second try before the interval through Solomone Kata to lead 17-6 at the break. Burns took a knock to the head in the build-up to that second score and a failed HIA meant he didn’t take part in the second half.

Leicester hit back to lead going down the finishing straight but they were undone 24-20 by a clock-in-the-red converted try from replacement Patrick Schickerling.

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