THE EUROPEAN Shield would appear to be the pariah of the rugby world; unimportant, unsponsored and unloved. It looks like an aimless competition, leading nowhere but up a flight of steps to collect some silverware. Officially there is not any prize money, or no set amount anyway. The winners do not even gain automatic entry into the Big One - the Heineken Cup.
Yet some of the groupings in the Shield must have had the coaches of Calvisano, Caerphilly and Roma shuddering as they contemplated the likes of Bristol, Begles-Bordeaux and Dax; or Pau, Perpignan and Sale; and especially Agen, Brive, and London Irish.
There is plenty of pedigree beef, good enough to grace the superior competition, but when you get down to the bones of it the clubs just are not interested. And it is unlikely the prospect of a sponsor for the knock-out stages would sweeten the pill any further.
There is no doubt, though, that the clubs will be competitive, but the Brive coach, Francis Leta, was brutally frank when he said: "We have absolutely no interest in the Shield. It merely gives us an opportunity to consolidate our rebuilding programme, which we have just begun. We get a chance to play different sides in Europe and see their varying styles of play, but the only means we have of progressing to the competition that matters - the Heineken Cup - is by winning either the French Cup or the French championship."
And his counterpart at London Irish, Dick Best, was just as frank, if a trifle more diplomatic. "I think this is a serious competition, but there is nothing at the end of this. But it does give us the opportunity to get our game plan off pat, and it is great to get away from the elite world of the ADP, where everyone knows how we play. We will learn a lot of other stuff in the Shield and get an idea of how other countries play. I think today we have also learned a lot about ourselves."
There was also an opportunity for a disappointing crowd of 3,131 to learn about an exciting youngster on the Exiles' staff. Scrum-half Kieran Campbell learned he would be on the right wing only an hour before the kick-off. His polished, at times dazzling, performance was convincing enough to persuade everyone watching that he was a natural in the position.
The 20-year-old's blistering pace over the initial 15 or 20 metres sliced open the stodgy Brive defence, and Campbell's passes as well as scrum- half skills came to the fore.
To him it was nothing to launch a missile of a pass some 30 metres across the face of the Brive backs and safely into the waiting hands of the full- back Jarrod Cunningham, whose counter-attacking had Monsieur Leta purring with pleasure afterwards. But not about Brive, who were were without passion or points in the first half as Irish ran in three of their four tries.
London Irish: Tries Gallacher, Campbell, Bishop, Flavin; Conversions Cunningham 4; Penalties Cunningham 3. Brive: Tries Matson, Leite, Arbizu; Conversions Lamaison 3.
London Irish: J Cunningham; M Horak, J Bishop, R Todd, K Campbell (M Rivaro, 80); S Bachop, S Hatley; N Hatley, A Flavin, S Halford (K Fullman, 64), B Cockbain (J Boer, 41), N Harvey, R Strudwick (capt), R Gallacher (M Gabey, 58), K Dawson (A Mower, 53).
Brive: D Venditti; J Carrat, C Leite, L Arbizu, S Carrat (T Matson, 27, G Townsend, 80); C Lamaison, K Dalzell (M Forest, 56); T Smith (R Crespy 59-64, Crespy, 71), S Brotherstone (L Travers, 7), E Bouti, D Falconer (M Giacheri, 52), Y Manhes, L van der Linden, L Mallier, F Duboisset (M Malafosse, 64)).
Referee: D Bevan (Clydach).Reuse content