Premiership final star Burns grateful for Japan stint

·2-min read

Freddie Burns said playing rugby in Japan had made him fall back in love with rugby after his last-ditch drop-goal won the Premiership final for Leicester.

The Tigers were level with Saracens at Twickenham on Saturday when, with just 22 seconds left of normal time, replacement fly-half Burns landed a drop-goal to secure a 15-12 victory that gave Leicester their 11th English title but first since 2013.

The 32-year-old was only on the field after George Ford limped off midway through the first half with an ankle injury that put a question mark over his availability for England's tour of Australia next month.

Leicester scored the only two tries of the match, with South African back-row forwards Hanro Liebenberg and Jasper Wiese crossing during a 10-minute spell in the first half where Saracens were a man down after scrum-half Aled Davies was yellow-carded for a shoulder challenge to the head of Tigers hooker Julian Montoya.

Burns, however, failed to convert Wiese's try and also missed with a penalty attempt early in a second half where the boot of England's Owen Farrell allowed Saracens to erase a 12-6 half-time deficit. But he still made sure of the drop-goal.

- 'Dead duck' -

"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.

"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."

Only a year ago the much-travelled Burns had signed to play for Japanese second-tier club Toyota Jido Shokki before he was summoned back for a second spell with Leicester by coach Steve Borthwick.

"Japan was the best thing that happened to me," said Burns.  "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."

Two years ago, five-time Premiership champions Saracens were relegated from the top-flight after being hit with a 105-point deduction for breaches of salary cap rules.

Had it not been for that huge penalty, Leicester, the English club game's dominant force for much of the 1990s and 2000s, would have been demoted to the Championship instead.

But under former England captain Borthwick, who started his coaching career while a player at Saracens, the Tigers led this season's Premiership from start to finish.

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


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