The bookmakers have their work cut out picking the winner of Pool Six of the Heineken Cup after London Irish produced a display of attacking rugby on the road against Brive on saturday that they will aim to repeat in the return fixture in five days' time.
Although Steffon Armitage was named man of the match, at the heart of everything was Chris Malone, rivalling Ryan Lamb for the playmaker slot at No 10.
The only area where Irish were tested was in the front row, and that is where, after a few first-half handbag flurries and then increasing abrasion, things erupted violently with 12 minutes to go. The replacement Irish hooker Danie Coetzee reared abruptly upwards at a scrum, at the same time clashing with his replacement opposite number Guillaume Ribes. Warring William was shown the red card, though a London Irish spokesman said afterwards that the trouble had started in the Brive second row.
More work for the citing officer, but yellow ended the fun for Coetzee as well. The furore continued when Jean-Baptiste Bonrepaux came back on to continue hostilities. it was goodbye to both as 14 played 13 for the last 10 minutes of the tie.
That took nothing away from the artistry of Malone, who jinked past three potential tacklers to take the first try, and the strong, direct running of Tom Homer, whose forays were part of many a rampaging move unleashed by Malone through the centres Seilala Mapusua and Elvis Seveali'i. Homer crossed twice while Armitage and Richard Thorpe kept the forwards in the try tally.
Irish need another big one away to Llanelli mid-January but the decisive fixture will be against reigning European champions Leicester at the Madejski on the weekend of 23 January.
Brive: Penalty Palisson. London Irish: Tries Homer (2), Malone, Armitage, Thorpe; Conversions Malone (3), Lamb; Penalty Malone.
Brive: H Aguila; 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 Mela, G Vosloo (J-P Bonrepaux, 70), F Domingo, A Claassen (capt, T Dubarry, 57).
London Irish: P Hewat; T Homer, E Seveal'i, S Mapusua, J Rudd; C Malone (R Lamb, 71), P Hodgson (A Lalanne, 57); C Dermody (D Murphy, 65), D Paice (D Coetzee, 65), P Ion, N Kennedy, R Casey (capt, A Perry, 72), R Thorpe, S Armitage, C Hala'uifa (K Roche, 71).
Referee: G Clancy (Ireland).
Man of the match: S Armitage.
Attendance: 8,000.Reuse content