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Adam Scott pays tribute to Greg Norman after US Masters win

Scott pays tribute to Norman after breaking Australia's majors duck with Masters win

By
Phil Casey, Press Association

PUBLISHED:

00:35 GMT, 15 April 2013

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UPDATED:

01:30 GMT, 15 April 2013

Adam Scott paid tribute to Australian great Greg Norman after breaking his major duck, and that of his nation at the Masters.

Scott saw off Angel Cabrera at the second hole of a sudden-death play-off at Augusta to win the 77th Masters and lay the ghost of Lytham last year, when he bogeyed the last four holes of the Open to lose by one stroke to Ernie Els.

'I don't know how that happens,' Scott said of today's dramatic finale. 'It seems a long way away from last July when I was trying to win another major.

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Looking good in Green: Adam Scott became the first Australian to win the US MAsters

Looking good in Green: Adam Scott became the first Australian to win the US Masters

Adam Scott wins the Masters

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'It fell my way today, there was some luck there. It was incredible.'

Scott and Argentinian Cabrera had finished at nine under, two shots ahead of Jason Day with a third Australian, Marc Leishman, tied for third on five under alongside world number one Tiger Woods.

And Scott said: 'Australia's a proud sporting nation and this was one notch on the belt that we'd never got.

Enlarge

Nail biting: Scott beat Argentinian Angel Cabrera in a tense finish

Nail biting: Scott beat Argentinian Angel Cabrera in a tense finish

'It's amazing that it's come down to me today, Marc and Jason Day, it could have been any of us.

'But there was one guy that inspired a nation of golfers and that's Greg Norman. He's been incredible to me and all the young golfers in Australia and part of this definitely belongs to him.'

Scott looked to have avoided the need for a play-off when he drained a superb 25-foot putt on the final hole of his fourth round to card 69.

So close: Cabrera throws his putter after just missing his birdie putt on the second playoff hole

So close: Cabrera throws his putter after just missing his birdie putt on the second playoff hole

Embrace: Second placed Angel Cabrera (right) congratulates Scott on his win

Embrace: Second placed Cabrera congratulates Scott on his win

But Cabrera, in the following group, hit a magnificent approach to little more than three feet and holed out to extend the contest.

'It was a split-second I thought I'd won, you should never count your chickens,' said Scott of his wild celebrations on the 72nd green.

'But that was the putt, we've seen so many guys make it to win and I thought 'it's time for me to step up' and see how much I wanted it.

Passover: Bubba Watson gives Scott his jacket

Passover: Bubba Watson gives Scott his jacket

'To make a couple of putts to win the Masters tournament is just an amazing feeling.'

Cabrera himself went close when his chip at the first play-off hole ran just past the cup and said: 'That's how golf is. I came back and I had that chip on 18, I could have won it.

But Adam's a good winner. I would have been happier if I had won but he's a great player, I get along with him, we've played together in the President's Cup and I'm happy for him.'

The Masters: Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus in our five of the best at Augusta National

The Masters: An old Golden Bear and a young Tiger plus Faldo, Mickelson and Crenshaw – five of the best at Augusta

PUBLISHED:

08:59 GMT, 8 April 2013

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UPDATED:

08:59 GMT, 8 April 2013

The Masters almost always produces dramatic golf worthy of the beautiful backdrop of Augusta National.

Here, Sportsmail picks out five of the most memorable tournaments starting with the legend that is Jack Nicklaus way back in 1986.

1) 1986 – Jack Nicklaus

Nicklaus was 46, had not won a tournament in two years or a major in six, and was being written off as a spent force. But the Golden Bear produced one more back-nine charge in the 50th Masters, coming home in 30 for a final round of 65 to beat Greg Norman and Tom Kite by a single shot.

Nicklaus went eagle-birdie-birdie on the 15th, 16th and 17th as Seve Ballesteros squandered the lead by hitting his approach to the 15th into the water short of the green.

Dry Spell: Jack Nicklaus' win in 1986 was his first victory in a major in six years

Dry Spell: Jack Nicklaus' win in 1986 was his first victory in a major in six years

Handing over: Bernhard Langer (left) hands Nickalus his sixth Green Jacket

Handing over: Bernhard Langer (left) hands Nickalus his sixth Green Jacket

2) 1997 – Tiger Woods

Kite was again the runner-up 11 years later, but this time by an incredible 12 shots as Woods tore up the record books to claim his first major title. That had looked distinctly unlikely as the 21-year-old played the front nine of his opening round in 40, but he came back in 30 to lie just three shots off the lead.

A second-round 66 took Woods three clear of Colin Montgomerie, a lead he extended to nine shots after round three and a record 12 after a closing 69 made him the youngest ever winner at Augusta.

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods

Passing the torch: Tiger Woods tore up the record books to win his first title at just 21-years-old

3) 2004 – Phil Mickelson

'I don't think any Masters will ever compare to the '86 Masters but, for me, this one does.'

That was the verdict of an emotional Mickelson after he had broken his major duck at the 47th time of asking. Mickelson had shared the lead with Chris Di Marco heading into the final round, but struggled to a front-nine 38 before a brilliant back nine of 31, culminating in a decisive birdie on the 18th, was enough to beat Ernie Els by a shot after the South African's excellent 67.

Crowd Pleaser: Phil Mickelson broke his major duck at the 47th time of asking

Crowd pleaser: Phil Mickelson broke his major duck at the 47th time of asking

Only just: A decisive birdie on the 18th hole gave Mickelson the title by just a single shot

Only just: A decisive birdie on the 18th hole gave Mickelson the title by just a single shot

4) 1995 – Ben Crenshaw

At 43, Crenshaw was not quite as old as Nicklaus in 1986, but his second Masters title in 1995 was equally remarkable and emotional.

Harvey Penick, who was Crenshaw's golf coach since he was seven years old, had died the week before and Crenshaw spent the Tuesday of Masters week at Penick's funeral in Austin, Texas.

The image of Crenshaw doubled over in grief and happiness after his final putt dropped – he did not have a single three-putt in 72 holes – has become an iconic Augusta image.

Ben Crenshaw

Ben Crenshaw

Emotional: Ben Crenshaw is hugged by his caddy Carl Jackson after winning for the second time at AQugusta National. Harvey Penick, who had coached Crenshaw since he was seven, died a week before the tournament

5) 1996 – Nick Faldo

Greg Norman had finished third behind Crenshaw in 1995, but it was the manner of his second-place finish to Nick Faldo the following year which was memorable for all the wrong reasons. Norman led from the outset after an opening 63, the joint lowest score ever in a major championship and only the second 63 ever at Augusta, and after adding rounds of 69 and 71 he was six shots clear of Faldo heading into the final round.

However, his lead was down to two shots by the turn and a back nine of 40 – despite two birdies – meant a closing 78 to Faldo's 67 and a five-shot winning margin for the Englishman.

Nick Faldo

Nick Faldo

Picking up the pieces: Nick Faldo took advantage of an awful final round from Greg Norman to win in 1996

Heineken Cup: Harlequins 12 Munster 18: Quins European hopes ended by Irish

Harlequins 12 Munster 18: Resurgent O'Connell jumps back into the Lions queue

PUBLISHED:

15:17 GMT, 7 April 2013

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UPDATED:

21:09 GMT, 7 April 2013

It may have been basic, but Munster strangled the English champions and were led by Paul O’Connell, who jumped and tackled his way back into Lions contention.

The 2009 Lions captain led a second-half charge which left Chris Robshaw and his Premiership men looking stunned in front of a full house of 15,000.

Munster’s pack won the crucial collisions — paving the way for another rejuvenated Irish master, Ronan O’Gara, to kick six penalties — four in the space of 14 minutes after the interval.

Resurgent: Paul O'Connell (centre) produced a dominant performance that must have put him back in Lions contention

Resurgent: Paul O'Connell (centre) produced a dominant performance that must have put him back in Lions contention

Quins’ previous Heineken Cup quarter-final four years ago, ended in the ‘Bloodgate’ scandal and a 6-5 win for Leinster.

The ramifications will not be as seismic this time, but Quins’ season is now in danger of collapse after three successive Premiership defeats.

They had turned around 9-6 ahead to harbour hopes of reaching a first semi-final at the fourth attempt, but that belief was shattered by Munster’s start to the second half.

O’Gara, shaking off the dis-appointment of being dropped by Ireland during the Six Nations, calmly kicked four penalties to follow his two shots before the interval.

Thin red line: The Munster No 8 steals the ball from Quins No 8 Nick Easter at the lineout

Thin red line: The Munster No 8 steals the ball from Quins No 8 Nick Easter at the lineout

O’Connell led the pack to give watching Lions coach Warren Gatland a firm reminder of his class and strength. On this showing O’Connell, who missed Ireland’s Six Nations campaign due to a back complaint, is a candidate to lead the Lions again following his impressive stint on the 2009 tour to South Africa.

For the moment, the 33-year-old refuses to discuss the prospect. ‘I’ve got a little bit to go in terms of match fitness but this was another injury-free day and I’m delighted to be back,’ he said.
Munster coach Rob Penney believes O’Connell will be ‘humming’ by the time of the Lions’ crucial games in Australia.

Quins director of rugby Conor O’Shea was also full of praise for O’Connell and a Munster pack in which back-rowers Tommy O’Donnell and Peter O’Mahony were outstanding.

Thank Evans: Quins' New Zealand fly-half Nick Evans secures another three points during the home side's rampant start

Thank Evans: Quins' New Zealand fly-half Nick Evans secures another three points during the home side's rampant start

O’Shea said: ‘Paul was absolutely magnificent. They rallied around him and followed him.’

O’Shea now has the task of re-energising his own team. ‘We didn’t play the way we can play because we weren’t allowed,’ was his blunt assessment.

‘Munster bossed the start of the second half and from then on it was a very big mountain to climb.
‘Our job is to qualify for the Premiership play-offs. We will be written off, no doubt, but we will just have to learn.’

Such thoughts seemed unlikely when Quins took charge at the opening scrums.

Pull the other one: Nick Easter drags back Paul O'Connell by his shirt before bringing him down

Pull the other one: Nick Easter drags back Paul O'Connell by his shirt before bringing himdown

The pressure brought a 6-0 lead through two penalties from Nick Evans and it was Munster who looked likely to crack.

But there were no clear try-scoring chances and the match became increasingly nervy as O’Connell and his gang started to win the crucial decisions from French referee Jerome Garces.

A third penalty from Evans helped Quins limp to a 9-6 lead at half-time and Munster turned to play into a stiff wind.

That handicap looked to make them more focused and a brilliant period of pressure rugby was rewarded by O’Gara’s nerveless kicking. He took Munster to a lead of 18-9 after 56 minutes.

Red riding hood: Munster's famous support were out in force at the Stoop

Red riding hood: Munster's famous support were out in force at the Stoop

A fourth penalty from Evans raised Quins’ hopes in the 65th, only for Munster to produce some clinical ‘keep-ball’ rugby and close out the match — much to the delight of their big following.

O’Connell claimed his team had not talked about such tactics, although his smile said something else. ‘The maul worked well and our kicking game was outstanding — you can’t win these tight games without that,’ he said in praise of O’Gara.

O’Shea refused to blame referee Garces for Quins’ demise. ‘Sometimes you have to say that the better team won,’ he conceded.
Smash and grab: England and Quins Mike Brown is wrestled to the ground by Munster's James Coughlan

Smash and grab: England and Quins Mike Brown is wrestled to the ground by Munster's James Coughlan

Sorry, sir: Quins captain Chris Robshaw is lectured by French referee Jerome Garces

Sorry, sir: Quins captain Chris Robshaw is lectured by French referee Jerome Garces

D.A. Points wins the Shell Houston Open

DA Points wins Shell Houston Open to book his place at the Masters

By
Mike Dawes

PUBLISHED:

01:00 GMT, 1 April 2013

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UPDATED:

02:12 GMT, 1 April 2013

DA Points found form out of nowhere to claim victory at the Shell Houston Open by a shot and book his place at the Masters.

Points had missed three cuts in a row and seven of his last nine heading into the Texas event, but hit his stride straight away, claiming the lead after the first round.

And he stayed in contention throughout the week, carding a six-under-par 66 today, inclduing a pressure putt on the 18th, to hold off Henrik Stenson and Billy Horschel and win by one stroke on 16 under.

All smiles: points celebrates with his hard-earned trophy

All smiles: points celebrates with his hard-earned trophy

'It's been a realy tough year, a tough
start,' he said. 'To have a putt to win – you want that starting out
every week. I would have liked it to be a little closer, but I've been
putting really well.'

Points came out on top after a
dramatic day, which saw a host of players move in and out of contention
and was extended because of a rain delay late on.

Stewart Cink and Bill Haas went into the day as joint leaders, but neither in the end was a serious contender.

Haas dropped two shots on the front
nine and in the end finished level par for his final round, while Cink
could muster only three birdies. An eagle on the last would have seen
him into a play-off with Points, but he found sand and ended up with a
bogey to sit in a share of sixth on 13 under.

Among the other contenders, Stenson
and Horschel hit contrasting 66s and were left to see if Points would
slip up on the final hole.

Weather delay: Bad weather delayed play on the final day

Weather delay: Bad weather delayed play on the final day

Weather delay: Bad weather delayed play on the final day

Stenson needed four birdies in his
last five holes to hit the mark, while Horschel could not find the shot
he needed at the back end of the course, parring each of the last five
holes.

The good news for Stenson was that his
performance was enough to earn him a place in the world's top 50 and an
invitation to the Masters.

Adding to the drama was a near
three-hour delay in play, with only a handful of players still out on
course and Stenson the clubhouse leader, caused by a downpour in
Houston.

Points held his nerve, though, saving
par on each of his last two holes using a putter he revealed earlier in
the week was one he had taken from his mother when he was younger and
had refurbished this week in an attempt to improve his play on the
greens.

Happy days: D.A. Points celebrates winning the Shell Houston Open

Happy days: D.A. Points celebrates winning the Shell Houston Open

Get in the hole: D.A. Points celebrates his par putt on the 18th green

Get in the hole: D.A. Points celebrates his par putt on the 18th green

'I was firing on all cycliners,' he said. 'I'm proud of myself that the rain delay didn't put a stop to that.'

Dustin Johnson produced the round of
the day, a seven-under 65, to finish in a share of fourth on 14 under,
alongside Ben Crane, while a 67 saw Brian Davis finish as the leading
Briton on 13 under, two strokes aherad of compatriot Lee Westwood.

Rory McIlroy managed a third straight under-par round to finish four under overall.

He told www.pgatour.com: '[There are]
lot of positives to take from it. I've learned a few things as well that
I can bring into next week and obviously looking ahead to Augusta, too.

'It's been a productive week.'

Luke Donald misses the cut in Malaysian Open

Donald loses proud record as his Masters build-up takes knock in Malaysia

By
Derek Lawrenson

PUBLISHED:

11:49 GMT, 23 March 2013

|

UPDATED:

19:49 GMT, 23 March 2013

Poor form: Luke Donald missed the cut in Malaysia

Poor form: Luke Donald missed the cut in Malaysia

They were playing in tournaments thousands of miles apart, but Luke Donald and Phil Mickelson headed home united by one common thought: with the Masters less than three weeks away, they have plenty of work to do.

Donald crashed out of the Malaysian Open at the halfway stage on Saturday to spoil one of the things he was most proud about in his career.

It was the first time he had ever missed a halfway cut in a European Tour event.

'I guess all good runs come to an end eventually, but I'm hugely disappointed,' he said.

Mickelson looked positively shattered after running up a horrific 79 in the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

'I just played terribly,' he said. Only three times in his last 12 Masters appearances has the three-time champion finished outside the top five, but the gifted lefty sounded like a man who did not expect to keep that remarkable run going.

He also had a dig at the PGA Tour for changing the schedule this year. Instead of the Houston Open – a tournament Mickelson loves – being the event before the Masters, it will be the Texas Open.

'Personally, I like playing on a course the week before that's similar, but the Texas Open layout is tight and it's windy, and that's not conducive to getting ready for Augusta,' he said.

'That makes it difficult for me. I find when I take a week off I come out and play like I did here – not mentally sharp. That's not good at the Masters, where you have to be sharp out of the gate.'

Donald's first missed cut on the European Tour came in his 119th start, stretching back a decade, and followed poor rounds of 74 and 73 to fall short by three shots as he struggled to read the slow greens at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club.

'I've got two weeks at home now and I'm going to have to be diligent in my Masters preparation,' he said.

Two up: Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand claimed a two shot lead in the second round

Two up: Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand claimed a two shot lead in the second round

Leaderboard

Click here for the latest standings

'It's true we've all seen players
who are seemingly out of form go and have a good week at the Masters,
but I need my scoring clubs – from 100 yards and in – to be better than
they have been.'

Meanwhile, as the third round of the
Arnold Palmer Invitational got underway at Bay Hill yesterday, Lee
Westwood did not improve his position among the back markers with a 72,
while Graeme McDowell is almost propping up the field after a 75.

One of the best early moves came from
Scot Martin Laird, a former winner of this event, who shot 68 to leap
up 35 places into the top 40.

Englishman Justin Rose began his third round tied for the lead with American Bill Haas, while Tiger Woods was four back.

Here in style: Charl Schwartzel of South Africa arrives in a helicopter on Saturday

Here in style: Charl Schwartzel of South Africa arrives in a helicopter on Saturday

Canada's Mike Weir, winner of the 2003 Masters, withdrew with a rib injury.

Weir, who was looking forward to
celebrating the 10th anniversary of his only major win at Augusta next
month, walked off the Bay Hill course after going four over through 11
holes.

Playing on a career money earnings
exemption after three barren injury-plagued seasons, Weir had begun to
show signs of turning his game around after making the cut for only the
fifth time in a PGA Tour event over the past three years.

Three of those have been this season, with a best finish of tied 50th at Pebble Beach.

'I'm feeling closer,' he said after his opening round on Thursday.

'It's not easy, but it's part of the game. I want to compete and that makes the hard work easier. I still love the game.'

Weir had been scheduled to play the Houston Open next week in his final competitive tune-up before the year's first major.

VIDEO: European Challenge Tour – cricket with golf clubs! Trick shot

VIDEO EXCLUSIVE: Cricket with golf clubs! European Challenge Tour trick shot…

PUBLISHED:

11:51 GMT, 4 March 2013

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UPDATED:

12:17 GMT, 4 March 2013

Inspired by Sachin Tendulkar's presence at the season-opening tournament in India, the stars of the Challenge Tour attempt to knock down the wicket from 22 yards away, with 6 attempts. And the results are quite spectacular…

Take a look at the latest 'Big Challenge' video below…

VIDEO Think you can hit a wicket from 22 yards using golf clubs

More Challenge Tour trick shots…

Click on the links below for more 'Big Challenge' videos.

Eight-iron… with a twist!'Olympic' obstacle course!Seve's backwards putt!

Stay tuned to MailOnline for Challenge Tour previews, results and more great videos.

Tiger Woods leads by six at Torrey Pines but Farmers Insurance Open finish delayed by fog

Tiger hits top form to build six-shot lead at Torrey Pines but finish delayed by fog

By
Mike Dawes

PUBLISHED:

02:15 GMT, 28 January 2013

|

UPDATED:

02:15 GMT, 28 January 2013

Tiger Woods remained on course for victory as the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines went into a fifth day.

After fog remarkably wiped out all but five minutes of day three's play, the third round and a large chunk of the fourth was completed today before darkness fell.

When that moment came, Woods was 17 under par with 11 holes to play, six shots clear of nearest challengers Brandt Snedeker and Nick Watney.

Can't see the Woods for the tree: Tiger hits out of the rough on the fourth hole at Torrey Pines

Can't see the Woods for the tree: Tiger hits out of the rough on the fourth hole at Torrey Pines

He's flying: Woods looks in fine form

He's flying: Woods looks in fine form

Woods was two shots clear at the start of play and extended his lead with a three-under-par third round of 69, bettered only by Australian Aaron Baddeley with 68.

The world number two began his final round four clear, having won on 39 of the 41 previous occasions he has led outright with 18 holes remaining – though the quick turnaround meant he had not changed into his trademark red shirt.

Nor did he start in typical fashion. He sent his first tee shot way left and needed a good recovery shot to set up a par, and then hit his second tee shot on to the fringe of the sixth fairway and was fortunate to have a clear shot in, though even then he needed an excellent 10-yard pitch to save par.
But he birdied the next two and gained another shot at the sixth before finishing with a par at the seventh.

Reigning champion Snedeker had spoken during Saturday's inactivity of the need to score low in today's extended play, and he certainly did so.

After also shooting 69 in the third round, Snedeker began his fourth with four birdies on the front nine and ended the day on 11 under par with five holes to play in the tournament.

Watney, the 2009 champion, could only manage 71 in his third round but was three under through eight to move in to contention on 11 under.

Head and shoulders above: World No 2 chips in for birdie on the fourth hole in San Diego

Head and shoulders above: The world No 2 chips in for birdie on the fourth hole in San Diego

Farmers Insurance Open

Click here for all the latest scores

Canada's Brad Fritsch was nine under through seven but Woods' playing partner Casey Wittenberg dropped back from that mark after bogeying the seventh, failing to get up and down from a ridiculous position near the second tee.

Luke Guthrie, Josh Teater, Steve Marino and Erik Compton were also at eight under, with six players including Englishman Ross Fisher tied on seven under.

Freddie Burns is ready to face Leicester at Welford Road

Cool-hand Freddie on song for title tilt as he prepares to face Leicester in hostile territory

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UPDATED:

22:02 GMT, 28 December 2012

Freddie Burns isn’t easily fazed.

He’ll relish calling the shots for Gloucester on Saturday in hostile territory at Welford Road, just as he felt utterly at ease making his England debut against the All Blacks at Twickenham four weeks ago.

The 22-year-old fly half sensation of the season even took it in his stride when he had to follow up that first international appearance with the traditional solo performance for his team-mates on the bus back to the hotel.

No amount of ridicule from the England squad – celebrating an historic triumph over New Zealand – was going to leave Burns flustered, not when he had endured far worse as a teenage tyro on long trips back to the Forest of Dean, while on loan at Cinderford.

Sensation: 22-year-old fly half Freddie Burns leads the Premiership in points scored this season

Sensation: 22-year-old Gloucester fly half Freddie Burns (right) leads the Premiership in points scored this season

‘I sung American Pie on the bus back to our hotel,’ he said, referring to the aftermath of that epic 38-21 victory on December 1.

‘I thought I would go for an old classic and because all the boys were in a good mood, I got let off lightly. The initiations at Cinderford were far worse. I’d rather sing on that England bus any day than go through that again!’

The precise details are unclear, but that is probably the way it should remain.

‘I spent a year at Cinderford when I was 18,’ he added. ‘At that time we had proper old stalwarts there like Matt Cornwell, Rob Fidler and Andy Deacon, and playing around those guys was a real eye-opener.

Novice: Burns made his England debut in the epic win over New Zealand

Reward: Burns made his England debut in the epic win over New Zealand

'We had some memorable journeys back from places like Tynedale and Redruth, hours and hours on the road, with the old boys in the back row of the bus and everyone having a few beers together.

It was a great experience for me.’ While that was a great experience in his personal development, what happened on his first outing for England was a great experience for the sport in this country.

Burns contributed two late penalties as a second-half replacement, while also showcasing his audacious attacking gifts and the streak of self-belief which serves him so well.

‘The most pleasing thing was that I think I proved that I’m not intimidated by the big stage,’ he said.

‘I wasn’t particularly nervous before the game. I managed to get nine hours’ sleep the night before.

Mercurial: Former All-Black Carlos Spencer (red) was at Gloucester when Burns was still a youngster

Mercurial: Former All-Black Carlos Spencer (red) was at Gloucester when Burns was still a youngster

'I felt a sense of belonging as soon as I got on the pitch and just wanted to show people that I should be there. I’ve always been naturally confident. I have never really doubted myself.’

As a rising talent who came through the academy at Bath, before switching to Gloucester, Burns took inspiration from a free spirit in the All Black ranks, Carlos Spencer.

The English apprentice was treated to first-hand examples of the wizardry he wished to emulate when the mercurial Kiwi moved to Kingsholm.

‘When I was younger, he was the guy,’ he said.

‘The fact that he ended up at Gloucester was such a bonus and he taught me so much. He was always coming out with skills that were unbelievable.

'I remember one day, he put a tractor tyre on its side against a fence, and was bending banana kicks through it from 25 metres away.

'I wasn’t training, but I was watching the boys outside through a window and when I saw that I thought, “That is ridiculous”.

‘I was lucky enough to spend two years playing behind Carlos and two years behind Nicky Robinson, who is more of a pragmatic 10, so I’ve been able to learn both styles of play.

'I’ve taken bits from both of them and tried to develop my own interpretation.’

Burns has one try, 15 conversions, 41 penalties and a drop goal this season

Burns has one try, 15 conversions, 41 penalties and a drop goal this season

The arrival last June of another Welshman, Nigel Davies, as director of rugby, has accelerated the development of Burns into the form No 10 in English rugby this season.

He is the top points-scorer and goal-kicker in the Aviva Premiership and has won two Player of the Month awards.

Such was the positive momentum he had generated that after training with the national team, head coach Stuart Lancaster had no doubts about picking him for that daunting debut which worked out so well.

Burns feels that his performances during the current campaign have shown greater ‘maturity’.

The same could be said for Gloucester collectively and after being thrashed 36-3 at Welford Road last season, their rookie conductor is expecting so much more this time, as he prepares to go head-to-head with Toby Flood again.

Freddie Burns

‘Comparing how we were last season to how we are now is like comparing night and day,’ he said. ‘

We have a real mental edge now and that will stand us in good stead at Leicester, because if we’re not on our game there they could beat us heavily again.

'We have come together so well and I’m confident we can end up in the top four, then challenge for the title.’

That’s the revised club target, but on a personal level Burns hopes to be included in the England squad for the Six Nations.

The trouble is, while striving to be considered the best fly half in the country, he faces a grave threat to his status as the best in his family.

Burns' younger brother Billy, just 18, is a rising star in the Gloucester ranks

Burns' younger brother Billy, just 18, is a rising star in the Gloucester ranks

His younger brother, 18-year-old Billy Burns, has emerged in the Gloucester first team this season to set the scene for a long-term sibling scrap for one coveted place.

‘Billy is doing well and I’m sure he’ll be putting pressure on me for my shirt sooner rather than later,’ said Freddie.

‘I’ve told him he would make a great full back, but he just comes straight back with, “So would you!”.’

Joking aside, the older brother will surely welcome the competition. It won’t faze him. Aside from long bus journeys to Cinderford, nothing does.

Wasps 25 Sale 18: Sharks relegation fears worsen

Wasps 25 Sale 18: Suffering Sharks rise above Danny debacle to claim bonus point

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UPDATED:

22:27 GMT, 23 December 2012

Sale arrived at Adams Park in a state of near disarray on Sunday but they left with renewed hope in their relegation fight, as Johnny Leota’s last-minute try and Rob Miller’s conversion secured a vital bonus point.

This was Wasps’ eighth consecutive home win in all competitions and they were propelled to victory by marauding 20-year-old No 8 Billy Vunipola.

Fortress: Wasps have now won eight from eight at Adams Park this season

Fortress: Wasps have now won eight from eight at Adams Park this season

His storming break from a scrum in the
52nd minute set up a try for Rhys Thomas to put the result beyond doubt
and suggest he could soon force his way into the senior England squad to
join his brother, Saracens prop Mako.

While Dai Young’s side climbed to
seventh in the Aviva Premiership table, the scoreline was far more
significant for the bottom club, who closed the gap behind London Irish
to five points.

Bonus: Richie Vernon is mobbed after scoring Sale's try

Bonus: Richie Vernon is mobbed after scoring Sale's try

After the 62-0 massacre at the hands
of Toulon last Sunday, there was character and resilience from the
Sharks on Sunday, personified by returning hooker Marc Jones. It all
came to fruition in the closing seconds when, from a scrum on the right,
Cillian Willis darted forward and Leota barged through to touch down.
Miller, who had missed two routine shots at goal, struck the conversion
with conviction.

Such a scenario seemed highly
unlikely before the game. After the record loss in France, Danny
Cipriani had been dropped, with interim director of rugby John Mitchell
pulling no punches in deriding the fly-half’s defensive work. Then,
after Sale’s head of social media had ignited a storm by condemning
protesting fans as ‘f***wits’ on Facebook, chairman Brian Kennedy
delivered his own damning verdict on Cipriani.

Lion-in-waiting: Joe Launchbury collects a high ball for the home side

Lion-in-waiting: Joe Launchbury collects a high ball for the home side

‘Danny didn’t want to tackle last
week,’ he said. ‘If you can’t defend, there’s no place for you in
Premiership rugby. Danny had a dreadful game in defence last week. If
you’re not prepared to put your body on the line for this club, who pay
your wages and give you the chance to play at the highest level each
week, then you won’t be in the squad.’

Cipriani was stunned by the public
broadside from his employer, but Mitchell didn’t spare him after this
match either. Referring to his decision to leave him out, the Kiwi said:
‘I’m certainly not Santa Claus — I don’t care where he played before.
All I’ve asked him to do is defend. Our defence was good last week until
he chose to be an individual. You have to serve your team-mates before
yourself. If he improves his defence, he’ll be back involved again.’

Putting the boot in: Stephen Jones (centre) kicked 14 points

Putting the boot in: Stephen Jones (centre) kicked 14 points

Despite the potentially disruptive
nature of this sideshow, Sale improved their performance from the
previous week and Mitchell added: ‘You cannot discount the importance of
that bonus point today. If we can win our next game, at home to
Worcester, it would put us right back where we need to be.
‘Everyone has to take responsibility for where we are and things have to
change. We’ve got to make it happen on the 28th, then it can become a
defining game.’

While Sale’s kickers struggled,
Stephen Jones landed 14 points – four penalties and a conversion – with a
flawless display. Elliot Daly weighed in with a three-point shot from
the left flank on halfway, just before the break. That gave Wasps the
lead again, after Sam Tuitupou’s rampaging run in midfield had caused
sufficient mayhem for Richie Vernon to score the visitors’ first try on
the right.

Battering ram: James Haskell is tackled by David Seymour

Battering ram: James Haskell is tackled by David Seymour

In the second half, it was Vunipola’s
dramatic intervention which gave the hosts the decisive edge and while
Young was critical of the team effort, he was effusive in his praise of
the Anglo-Tongan back-row prospect, saying: ‘Billy was outstanding in
attack and defence. He’s been in the same vein of form for most of this
season, it’s hard to believe he is only 20.

‘If he was called upon by England, he
wouldn’t let anyone down and I don’t think it will be too long before
he is putting on an England jersey.’

Tottenham 0 Stoke 0: Spurs frustrated by Potters at White Hart Lane

Tottenham 0 Stoke 0: Frustration for Spurs as Potters claim deserved point

|

UPDATED:

17:22 GMT, 22 December 2012

Stoke lived up to their billing as one of the best defensive units around as they put in a stubborn display to deny Tottenham victory at White Hart Lane.

Spurs could have gone third in the Barclays Premier League with a win, but the visitors proved too hard to break down thanks to a predictably tough display from Tony Pulis' side.

Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas and his assistant Steffen Freund regularly complained at the physicality of the Potters, who had four players booked during the match.

But the draw was more to do with the imperious performances of Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth than any perceived bully-boy tactics.

On the run: Gareth Bale is chased by Ryan Shotton

On the run: Gareth Bale is chased by Ryan Shotton

Match facts

Tottenham: Lloris, Walker, Dawson, Caulker, Vertonghen, Lennon (Sigurdsson 78), Sandro, Dembele (Parker 85), Bale, Defoe, Adebayor.
Sub not used: Friedel, Gallas, Naughton, Livermore, Townsend.
Bookings: Vertonghen, Sandro.

Stoke: Begovic, Wilkinson, Shawcross, Huth, Cameron, Shotton (Whitehead 64), Nzonzi, Whelan, Etherington (Crouch 69), Jones (Jerome 66), Walters.
Subs: Sorensen, Palacios, Upson, Kightly.
Bookings: Cameron, Wilkinson, Nzonzi, Whitehead, Walters.

Attendance: 35, 702.
Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire)

Latest Premier League results, fixtures and table

Villas-Boas had described the Potters
defence as one of the best in Europe on Thursday and his assessment
proved correct as the strong duo kept Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermain
Defoe quiet for almost the entire match.

Gareth Bale, returning to the Tottenham side after his hamstring injury,
went close with a second-half header, as did Gylfi Sigurdsson in
added-time, but for the most part Spurs were restricted to long shots.

Stoke, who have kept nine clean sheets this season, have now gone eight
matches unbeaten for the first time since the Premier League began.

Tottenham, meanwhile, head to Aston Villa on Boxing Day in fifth
position after rivals Arsenal and Everton both won their respective
matches, and Villas-Boas will no doubt see this as a missed opportunity
to start the festive period with a bang.

Sliding in: Jermain Defoe challenges Stoke's Robert Huth

Sliding in: Jermain Defoe challenges Stoke's Robert Huth

On the ball: Jan Vertonghen is closed down by Stoke pair Glenn Whelan and Ryan Shotton

On the ball: Jan Vertonghen is closed down by Stoke pair Glenn Whelan and Ryan Shotton

Stoke made a bright start, stifling the home side in the first five minutes amid a quiet atmosphere inside White Hart Lane. Just 45 seconds had gone before Kyle Walker fed a hospital pass straight
in to the path of Kenwyne Jones, but he lost his balance and could only
shoot over.

Spurs sought to match Stoke's physicality in midfield with a couple of
hefty tackles early on, but Sandro went too far five minutes in when he
earned a booking for a dangerous studs up challenge on Glenn Whelan.

Stoke had all the early play, but Hugo Lloris remained untested in the Spurs goal. Bale fired in a low cross, but the imperious Huth hooked the ball clear before Defoe could get to the ball.

The eyes have it: Tottenham's Emmanuel Adebayor controls the ball under pressure from Glenn Whelan

The eyes have it: Tottenham's Emmanuel Adebayor controls the ball under pressure from Glenn Whelan

Stoke soon hit back through Steven N'Zonzi, who fed Jones on the
counter-attack. The striker beat Lloris, but Sandro scrambled back to
clear off the line. Back up the other end Jan Vertonghen used some silky skills to beat
three Stoke players and cross for Defoe, but the ball just evaded the
diminutive striker.

Vertonghen was booked for a late tackle on Whelan and was back in the
thick of the action moments later with a deflected shot that flew in to
Asmir Begovic's hands.

Battle: Tottenham's Aaron Lennon clashes with Andy Wilkinson

Battle: Tottenham's Aaron Lennon clashes with Andy Wilkinson

Bale put in one of his trademark lung-busting runs and beat his marker, but Shawcross cleared before Defoe could tap in.

The Welshman charged at the Stoke defence 60 seconds later and this time
found his target at the back post, but Adebayor could only head over.

Spurs started to take control of the match and went close to breaking
the deadlock just before the break through Mousa Dembele, who fired half
a yard over the bar.

Stay on your feet, Aaron: Lennon and Andy Wilkinson tussle for the ball

Stay on your feet, Aaron: Lennon and Andy Wilkinson tussle for the ball

The physical nature of the game showed no sign of relenting after the re-start. Just over 30 seconds of the second half had elapsed before Andy Wilkinson saw yellow a foul on Aaron Lennon.

Pulis fumed at Bale just before the hour when he went to ground in an attempt to win a free-kick just outside the box.

Not their day: Jermain Defoe's reaction here says it all

Not their day: Jermain Defoe's reaction here says it all

Spurs had their best chance of the game so far when Bale leapt to meet Lennon's cross, but he could only head over.

Stoke hit back on the break the following minute through Geoff Cameron,
who sprinted down the left to found Ryan Shotton, but his attempt on
goal was weak.

Shotton paid the price for the miss as he was withdrawn for Dean
Whitehead, who saw yellow for tangling with Vertonghen barely a minute
after he entered the pitch.

Every reason to smile: Stoke manager Tony Pulis saw his side claim a fine point

Every reason to smile: Stoke manager Tony Pulis saw his side claim a fine point

Do it this way: Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas directs his team

Do it this way: Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas directs his team

Bale and substitute Sigurdsson drove at the Stoke defence, but they had
to shoot from distance as the away side looked to close out the game.

Cameron and N'Zonzi entered the book in the final 15 minutes as the game threatened to boil over.
Spurs threw everything at the visitors, but they could not find a way through.

On the sidelines: Stoke's Michael Owen watches from the bench

On the sidelines: Stoke's Michael Owen watches from the bench

Bale went down in the box, but Lee Mason waved play on, as the match entered its final stages.

With just seconds of the four minutes of added time played, Sigurdsson had a chance to win it, but
Begovic pulled off a world-class save and the hosts had to settle for a
point.