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'Not true': The Freddie Burns sacked by Leicester at Nandos story

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

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Title-winning hero Freddie Burns has had his wings clipped by ex-Leicester CEO Simon Cohen after the 2022 Gallagher Premiership final matchwinner claimed he was sacked during his first stint at the Tigers while having a lemon and herb chicken at Nandos.

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It was April when the out-half made his astonishing claim during an interview on RugbyPass Offload. Burns was delighted with the restaurant invitation from the then Leicester CEO but he quickly lost his appetite and wound up leaving for Bath in the summer of 2017 before his contract was due to expire.

“At Leicester last time I got sacked over lemon and herb chicken and spicy rice. I still had a year and a half on my contract and Simon Cohen, who was CEO of Leicester at the time, said, ‘Can I meet you for a Nandos?’ I said, ‘Nandos on the CEO? I don’t mind if I do’.

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“Spicy rice, lemon and herb chicken, had one mouthful. He went, ‘Fred, we went to get rid of you’. ‘What? I think I need to go and get a refill’. There was me standing by the fizzy drinks machine wailing, ‘I’m getting sacked’. At the time it hurts but you look back and this is a business now.”

After spending three years at Bath, Burns headed to Japan for a season before Steve Borthwick came in with a two-year offer to bring him back to Leicester for the 2021/22 campaign that culminated in the ex-England out-half dramatically landing the final-minute match-winning drop goal versus Saracens in the Premiership final last June.

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After 15 years working at Leicester in a variety of roles, Cohen himself was forced out in 2020 and spent two years on gardening leave. With the issue of his departure now resolved, he has reflected on his time at the Premiership club in an interview on The Big Jim Show, hosted by ex-Scotland and Tigers second row Jim Hamilton.

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The 47-minute conversation covered a wealth of stories from his time in the professional game and one yarn he wanted to set the record straight about was Burns’ allegation about getting sacked by Leicester at Nandos.

“Freddie is a top, top bloke,” began Cohen, who these days is working as an agent for Green Room Sports. “When he was at Leicester (the first time) he dragged everybody around him and he became a focal point for lots of the boys that weren’t already in established cliques, groups, whatever friendship groups, and I thought he was absolutely brilliant.

“Although he did tell a story about me recently sacking him over a Nandos. It’s not true. The Nandos bit was true. I took everybody for a Nandos. There were so many contracts done in Nandos… to be honest of all the things I have had and lost within a career, the loss of that Nandos black card is my greatest, the one I feel the most, it’s just sad.

“Anyway, my view on it was we were going to sign George (Ford from Bath) and there is a lot of myth about who signs players at clubs. At Tigers, the coaches always had the final say. I’d never been in a situation where somebody other than a coach had the final say, although Cockers [Richard Cockerill] allowed me one sort of wildcard which was Jordan Crane.

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“Do you remember the circumstances surrounding Jordan Crane and Lewis Moody? Lewis was coming back from an injury and we played Leeds in a second team game, one of those A team games on a Monday night, and Jordan kept running across Lewis’ lines at the back of a lineout so Lewis being Lewis whacked him.

“There was blood pouring out of Jordan’s nose down his face. He went off to get seen to rather than the physio coming on, so he had left a hole in the defensive line and Cockers was going ballistic. I was saying, ‘Look, I think he is a good player and I think he is a good leader’ but Cockers was going ‘he wasn’t dead and he left the defensive line’. Cockers went, ‘We can’t sign him’.

“But anyway we did and fortunately that worked out, but generally in every other case the coach decides. So they [Leicester] decided they wanted George and what I said to Freddie was, ‘Look, you have got a contract’.

“You can’t sack a player – you can but you then have to pay them a settlement and that settlement appears in the salary cap, so what you have effectively done if you sack a player is you have paid for him you play for somebody else and I don’t see the point of that.

“I said to Freddie, ‘Within the negotiations with Bath it has become pretty clear they would take you as their first choice. The coaches’ view was that George would play in front of you (at Leicester’ and that in a sense had been borne out by the selections this season (2021/22 after his return to the club).

“So all I said was, ‘I think there was an opportunity for you to go to Bath if you want to be the first choice’ – but it’s not as good a story as the way Freddie tells it.”

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