Having emerged victorious from the biggest game in his club's 110-year history, Brian Smith was looking forward to an even bigger occasion, a Heineken Cup semi-final at Twickenham later this month.
Smith, London Irish's director of rugby, urged anyone with any Irish connection to support the Exiles. "I want every Paddy in England or anybody who has kissed a Paddy to turn up," he said. Ecstatic after this impressive performance, Smith might have added he would like to see the Twickenham crowd enlarged by those acquainted with the Blarney Stone.
The irony, of course, is that Smith, an Australian, coaches a team that apart from the captain Bob Casey contains players who were born anywhere but Ireland. "A lot of people make too much of an issue about this not being an Irish club any more," Casey, who was born in the Kildare town of Maynooth, said. "There may not be as many Irish players as there once was but the spirit of the Irish is still there."
Casey, who has won only a handful of caps for his country but would probably have had more had he stayed with Leinster, forms with his lock partner Nick Kennedy one of the best line-outs in the business. They were too good for Perpignan, who were outplayed in a second half that identified the Irish – appearing in their first Heineken quarter-final – as a genuine force.
"The forwards were well prepared and provided a wonderful platform," Smith said. "We showed outstanding control and thoroughly deserved to win. I think there's a little bit more to come."
Smith's fellow Australian, the full-back Peter Hewat, overshadowed Percy Montgomery, Perpignan's World Cup-winning Springbok, to take the man of the match award. Not only did Hewat kick five penalties but his line kicking was immense and he bombarded the hapless wing Adrien Plante, who had no idea how to deal with it.
Irish led 11-9 after a first half during which the Catalans were at their most dangerous. They came close to a try on a couple of occasions, the closest when Plante, gathering a chip ahead, planted the ball over the line but was denied a try because his feet had crossed the touchline, the result of Paul Hodgson's magnificent cover tackle.
The score was 6-6 when the Irish got the only try of the match in the 31st minute. That good old Paddy Seilala Mapusua created havoc with a powerful run and Mike Catt, in his last act before limping off, put in a cross-kick to the left-hand corner where the flanker Declan Danaher rose above Christophe Manas to gather and score.
In the second half the Irish got better and better; Perpignan fell apart. They took off the Scotland internationals Chris Cusiter and Nathan Hines and Hewat proceeded to kick them out of the competition before, in the final seconds, Viliami Vaki was sent off for punching Steffon Armitage.
Casey, for one, will play his part in swelling the crowd for the semi-final. "I live around Twickenham and there's a good number of Irish there. I've got aunties, uncles and cousins all living in London."
London Irish: Try Danaher; Penalties Hewat 5. Perpignan: Penalties Montgomery 3.
London Irish: P Hewat; T Ojo, G Tiesi (D Armitage, 57; P Richards, 57), S Mapusua, S Tagicakibau; M Catt (S Geraghty, 32), P Hodgson; C Dermody (T Lea'aetoa, 40), D Paice, F Rautenbach (R Thorpe, 78), N Kennedy, B Casey (capt), D Danaher, S Armitage, P Murphy.
Perpignan: P Montgomery; C Manas, D Marty, J-P Grandclause, A Plante; N Laharrague, C Cusiter; S Chobet (P Freshwater, 54), M Tincu (G Guirado, 54), N Mas (S Bozzi, 64), R Alvarez-Kairelis (capt), N Hines (C Porcu, 64), V Vaki, O Tonita (D Chouly, 54),H Tuilagi.
Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).Reuse content