There were just 27 men left on the field for the last 10 minutes of what turned into a thoroughly bad-tempered match between former Heineken champions with other things on their minds and a London Irish side who have ambitions of a domestic and European double.
The Reading-based Irish could allow themselves a few smiles, having scored five tries and with them a full haul of five points, but with another match against Brive to be played next weekend at the Madejski Stadium some stern words on keeping cool heads may be part of the midweek build-up.
The main trouble appeared to start in the front row but later the finger was pointed at the Brive second row Arnaud Méla and the replacement hooker, Guillaume Ribes, who whacked his opposite number, Danie Coetzee. The referee, George Clancy of Ireland, consulted his touch judges and then showed Ribes the red card. He was soon to add a double yellow, after Jean-Philippe Bonrepaux came back on to continue the confrontation. Coetzee went too, leaving the field with a digital gesture to his new-found foe.
The Brive supporters had signalled their expectations by leaving great expanses of empty seats – a cutting north-easterly wind did little to help the atmosphere either. The locals who were here could think back to the glow of a home win the previous weekend against Toulouse, which gave them hope that the six-week-old management rebuild under Ugo Mola, who has replaced Laurent Seigne as head coach, will help them retain their place in the Top 14.
Irish were prepared for a fast start and were determined to meet fire with fire, remembering that a slow start had contributed to their home defeat at the hands of the Scarlets in the last round. Paul Hodgson took a quick penalty to drive deep into Brive territory, and the ease with which Chris Malone, starting at fly-half in preference to Ryan Lamb, danced past three tacklers to score the first try after five minutes demonstrated the Exiles' intent. He added the conversion.
Brive fought back and even declined a penalty kick, preferring to attack the Irish line. They were causing the visitors some discomfort in the front row, but they failed to turn the pressure into points. They then suffered another blow when Tom Homer squeezed over at the corner flag to add a second try for the Irish.
If much of the play in the remaining 20 minutes of the first half was scrappy, it was at least ambitious. The total reward was a penalty apiece, the first from Malone and the second, with the last kick, from a man who wants his place back in the France side, Brive's winger and sometime full-back Alexis Palisson.
One of Brive's three half-time changes saw Jean-Baptiste Pejoine take over from the former Bristol and England scrum-half Shaun Perry, and it was Pejoine who failed to stop Steffon Armitage doing a fair impression of his brother Delon, staying just inside the touchline to turn a Malone pass and a Homer break into five points.
While the tension spread from the field to the spectators there were continuing attempts to play some rugby. The coup de grâce fell to Homer who, with two minutes to go, scored his second try and ensured that, with the Scarlets suffering their first Pool Six defeat, everything is still to play for.
Brive: H Agulla; A Palisson (S Spedding, 62); R Cooke, L MacKay, G Namy; F Estebanez (L Orquera, 40), S Perry (J-P Pejoine 40); P Barnard (D Khinchagishvili, 54), J-P Bonrepaux (G Ribes, 54), S Zimmerman (P Idedier, 54), C Short (R Uys 40), A Méla, G Vosloo, A Claassen (capt; T Dubarry, 57), F Domingo.
London Irish: P Hewat; T Homer, E Seveali'i, S Mapusua, J Rudd; C Malone (R Lamb, 71), P Hodgson (A Lalanne, 57); C Dermody, D Paice (D Coetzee, 65), P Ion, N Kennedy, B Casey (capt), R Thorpe, C Hala'Ufia, S Armitage.
Referee: G Clancy (Ireland)Reuse content