'The players feel like they have been pushed into a corner' - Former Bath No 10 Freddie Burns speaks out

Freddie Burns is heading to Japan after leaving Bath - GETTY IMAGES
Freddie Burns is heading to Japan after leaving Bath - GETTY IMAGES

Freddie Burns says the revised Premiership Rugby fixture schedule - which will see clubs asked to play seven games in 28 days - is “complete madness” and fears it will expose players to a risk of long-term injury problems.

Burns, the former Bath fly-half who is joining Japanese club Shokki Shuttles in January, warned that players privately feel alarmed by the decision to complete the season in full, including three midweek rounds when the league resumes next month.

Burns, whose three-year tenure with Bath ended last month, said he was able to speak out as he was leaving the Premiership, claiming many players were concerned about the physical demands of the new schedule at a time when clubs had also cut the size of their squads.

“The players feel like they have been pushed into a corner, first with the pay cut situation and now the amount of games,” said Burns, who won five caps for England. “Given the physicality and the attrition of the game now, to ask players to play seven games in 28 days is just complete madness.

“The guys may not get injured in those 28 days but because of the need to play so many games to catch up, players are going to pick up injuries in the long-term.

“The players are trapped at the minute. They can’t really look elsewhere because there aren’t many opportunities in France and they are not going to say anything because clubs will stand them down. It is a really sorry state. As a guy who is leaving the Premiership, I feel I can speak out a little bit and shed a bit of light on what the players are feeling.”

Bath's Freddie Burns - PA
Bath's Freddie Burns - PA

Burns conceded that the midweek games would provide more opportunity for squad rotation to give fringe players more opportunities but insisted that the pressure for results and rate of attrition could expose players to greater injury risk.

“I do understand it is a great opportunity for young players to break through and be given a chance but the minute you lose a game, clubs are going to be under pressure if they start losing a few games on the bounce and coaches will be forced to play strong teams,” Burns added.

“And some positions in each squad may only have two or three players and if one picks up an injury, then you will have two guys sharing the load. It has been said that coaches will be able to rotate and choose which players they are going to flog, but no-one should be getting flogged.

“I know from playing that a good portion of your squad is normally injured during the season. By game four you might have four or five players injured and suddenly the pool of players to pick from becomes limited. Squads just don’t have the depth now and yet we are asking players to play more.

“Everyone wants rugby to survive. We all know that some form of rugby needs to come back for the TV money to come in for clubs to pick up a bit of revenue again but it can’t be done at the detriment of players’ long-term health.”

Rugby Nerd REFERRAL (article)
Rugby Nerd REFERRAL (article)

Instead of trying to complete the season, Burns said Premiership Rugby should have instead written it off and as a compromise brought forward the start date of the new season.

“There was no debate over the relegation with Saracens already done (because of salary cap breaches) so it would have been easy to step back and say ‘let’s start the new season a bit earlier this year’,” Burns added.

“That would have allowed the season to get back on the normal schedule and have breaks during the international windows.

“I know there has to be a compromise but at the minute it appears that the players who are making all the compromise both physically with their bodies and financially with the pay cuts.”