Ireland’s replacement flyhalf Billy Burns came on with his side chasing the lead in the final quarter of their Six Nations clash in Cardiff, as Wales snatched all the momentum when a 14-man Irish side began to wilt.
The tide had turned after a Louis Rees-Zammit try in the 58th minute put Wales ahead for the first time in the half, with Ireland needing to arrest a 21-16 deficit in the final minutes.
Wales looked to have the match sealed with 10 seconds left before halfback Gareth Davies kicked the ball back to Ireland instead of holding the ball until time expired. Deep into injury time, Ireland continued their possession before receiving a penalty.
Looking to kick to the corner for a line out maul, Burns made the mistake of kicking it dead searching for the five metre line, ending the game in the process. The Ulster flyhalf was visibly distraught at his error, with a teammate close by consoling a kneeling Burns.
Unfortunately Burns became the scapegoat for furious fans afterward, who piled on social media to heap blame as they believed he cost Ireland the game. The responses were, in some cases, appalling, leading to some of rugby’s most prominent figures to publicly denounce such abuse.
England’s Ugo Monye asked for fans to ‘not show their worst side’ whilst dealing with the deep frustration and disappointment, while former Irish international Simon Zebo said he admired the courage shown by Burns to go for the five, adding that no one has died.
Former Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll called it a ‘very very tough pill to swallow’ but Burns’ response to the incident will show his character.
Irish fans will be deeply frustrated/disappointed… Twitter please don’t show your worst side. Seen some awful comments already #WALvIRE
— ugo monye (@ugomonye) February 7, 2021
I admire the ? on billy burns to go for the actual 5m
Not shy away and hit the 22 like many others
Allez les verts ??????
— Simon Zebo (@SimonZebo) February 7, 2021
Very very tough pill for Billy Burns to swallow. International rugby can be brutal as there’s no hiding place but big test of character now as to what response is given….
— Brian O'Driscoll (@BrianODriscoll) February 7, 2021
Journalists also made calls to fans asking them to stop tagging players in negative tweets, while Ulster teammate John Cooney had some sage advice for those berating others online.
“If you’re the type of person who has to berate another individual in order to feel better about yourself, I feel sorry for you,” he wrote.
“Think before you write stuff online & look internally first. We are all fallible. It’s the man in the arena!”
It's 2021 and people are still tagging players in critical tweets. Seriously, how does anyone think that's the right thing to do?
— Rúaidhrí O'Connor (@RuaidhriOC) February 7, 2021
If you tag a player in a mean Tweet you are gross. Nobody will be giving them a harder time than themselves. It’s never ok to abuse someone online.
— Jessica Hayden (@_JessHayden) February 7, 2021
Be kind. pic.twitter.com/PRCRmeFXvn
— RugbyPlayersIreland (@RugbyPlayersIRE) February 7, 2021
If you’re the type of person who has to berate another individual in order to feel better about yourself, I feel sorry for you. Think before you write stuff online & look internally first. We are all fallible. It’s the man in the arena! pic.twitter.com/aE9nEPVq6K
— John Cooney (@JCooney09) February 7, 2021
Stop tagging players to criticise them.
It’s shitty. Very shitty. Be better. pic.twitter.com/PZHfbOb3LS
— Jamie Phillips (@JNPhillips4) February 7, 2021
Billy Burns my god
— Andy McGeady (@andymcgeady) February 7, 2021
A single decision doesn’t lose a game, nor does a single player. Yet I’m horrified so many people seem to have that opinion.
Remind me, how many international minutes do you have under your belt?
— Christina Mahon (@ChristinaMahonx) February 7, 2021
Only one man cost Ireland the match and it wasn't the luckless Billy Burns. Peter O'Mahony lost it when he lost his head in the 14th minute: indefensible. Had the @Munsterrugby flanker been in action instead of sitting behind a mask, North probably wouldn't have scored his try. https://t.co/eE2y1zbqYh
— Peter Jackson (@JackoRugby) February 8, 2021
Important to remember Billy Burns was there on merit as he has been excellent for Ulster and impressed when given the Test chance last year
He'll have to wear this one, but he's made of strong stuff pic.twitter.com/kMUl6INRT9
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) February 7, 2021
Head coach Andy Farrell wasn’t blaming Burns after the game, saying ‘we have all missed touch before’ and that he will learn from the experience.
“It’s not the reason we lost the game. We have all missed touch before,’’ Farrell said.
“I suppose he will be gutted, obviously, because of the magnitude of the last minute and whether we’ve got a chance to win the game at the death there, but he’ll learn from this.”
Captain Johnny Sexton echo’d his coach’s sentiment, explaining that he’d told Burns to go for maximum distance earlier.
“Billy is upset. Billy puts a huge amount on his own shoulders a lot of the time and he has definitely – almost always – carried Ulster in the past. And he will do for Ireland in the future as well.
“Obviously, he realises, with that kick to the corner there, he is trying to get every single last inch out of that ball. He slightly overcooked it.
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