The arrival of Aaron Mauger at Leicester Tigers signalled the chance for every member of the backline to re-establish themselves in the pecking order so for Freddie Burns an early-season injury was particularly frustrating.
Having to watch from the sidelines as he recovered from Bell’s palsy and then a broken jaw, Burns couldn’t make an immediate impression on the new head coach and former All Black.
Desperate to make his mark, Burns couldn’t have chosen a better time to slot a match-winning penalty than an East Midlands derby against Northampton Saints at the start of January to cement Leicester’s promising Aviva Premiership Rugby campaign to date.
Owen Williams suffered a broken jaw of his own during that game, ruling him out for at least a couple of months, and the former Gloucester Rugby fly-half knows he has to take his chance in the ten jersey now.
“I am really happy to be back and playing again especially the way the season started,” said Burns.
“When there are new coaches coming in, you want to make an impression so it was frustrating to not be able to play.
“You feel like you can’t really show what you can do and the first months are important.
“But it’s good to have been back in the team and of course scoring the winning penalty against Northampton is always pretty special at Leicester. Even though we felt like should have had the game sewn up, it was nice to still come away with the result.
“I still feel like I am getting my legs back as I get to full fitness. But now there is an opportunity and it’s up to me step up.”
It’s been a promising season for Leicester, who sit fourth in the Aviva Premiership Rugby table and are qualified for the last eight of the European Rugby Champions Cup with a game to spare.
Following a convincing win over Benetton Treviso, they travel to France this weekend to take on Top 14 champions Stade Français and Burns is desperate to help his side to six wins from six against Europe’s elite ahead of a home quarter-final.
“It’s a huge game for us and we’re pretty happy with the way things are going at the moment,” he added.
“It’s the sort of massive European game that the club is all about so it’s really exciting. To have qualified for the quarter-finals with a game to spare is really good but we know we’ve got a lot of work still to do.
“Getting to the quarter-finals isn’t enough so we want to go further. Potentially we could find ourselves back in France later in the knock-out stages so we have to get used to playing out there.”