London Irish expect Heineken test admits Booth

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The Independent Online

Toby Booth admits London Irish will be "tested from the outset" when they look to transfer their impressive domestic form into European club rugby's biggest arena.

Irish, Heineken Cup semi-finalists the season before last, launch their campaign away to holders Leinster on Friday week.

With the Exiles currently destroying many of their opponents in the Guinness Premiership, it could prove to be a classic encounter.

"We want to test ourselves against the best," said head coach Booth.

"And with Leinster in Dublin as our first game, we are going to be tested from the outset.

"There are so many good teams, and that's what is so great about this competition."

The 15th Heineken Cup campaign culminates with this season's final in Paris on May 22, but most attention - especially during initial pool stages - is likely to revolve around Harlequins.

Quins kick off at Cardiff Blues in 10 days' time, having scarred the summer months through fall-out from the 'Bloodgate' fake injury scandal.

Former Quins rugby director Dean Richards proved the biggest casualty of arguably the most damaging episode in English rugby history.

He resigned from his post at Quins in August, and then received a three-year worldwide coaching ban for orchestrating the fake injury and subsequent cover-up.

It all happened during last season's Heineken Cup quarter-final between Quins and Leinster as Richards desperately tried to get injured goalkicker Nick Evans back on the field in a game his team eventually lost 6-5.

Wing Tom Williams was instructed to bite a blood capsule and feign injury. He landed a year's suspension - reduced to four months on appeal - while ex-Quins physiotherapist Steph Brennan was banned for two years.

Quins were also hit by a substantial six-figure fine - but they avoided an ultimate sanction of expulsion from this season's blue riband European tournament.

Club chief executive Mark Evans, meanwhile, has revealed Richards' successor could be in place by Christmas.

"We are talking to a few people," he said.

"When you look for somebody, and they are looking at you, there is a whole host of things that goes on.

"How financially stable is the organisation? What's the structure? What are the facilities like? What's the academy like? There are a whole host of things that need to be weighed up.

"I would like to think we tick, maybe not all the boxes, but quite a few.

"We had quite a stable structure that unfortunately got blown apart for reasons people are well aware of, and that's a shame."

Whoever arrives at the Twickenham Stoop as Richards' successor though, will need to work with an existing coaching team headed by John Kingston.

Evans said the positions of Kingston and his fellow coaches Colin Osborne and Tony Diprose were non-negotiable.

"We have very experienced coaches," he added.

"John has been in the game since it went professional, and before it. Technically, he's excellent, and the players like him.

"Colin Osborne has been at the club for 15 years, in various different roles. He's a super attack coach.

"And Tony Diprose has got a great rugby brain - he is going to be an exceptional coach. He's got a great future in the game.

"They all get on well, so why would we want to change that?"