Perpignan 23 London Irish 6: Hines shines to leave the Exiles bloodied and beaten

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The Independent Online

The London Irish cup bandwagon came a cropper at Perpignan on what proved to be not so much a trip to the south of France, more a bruising trek to northern Catalunya.

After flying home yesterday, Irish had to wait for a second scan on the broken left eye socket of flanker Kieran Roche, who had been taken to hospital with fears also for his sight. Accusing fingers were being pointed at the elbow of Perpignan captain and England international Perry Freshwater.

Under the brooding shadow of the Pyrenees their unbeaten three-game streak had left them with the opportunity to close the door on any other pretender for the quarter-final slot.

They had only to play Newport at home, having already beaten them away, and Treviso away in January to wrap it up.

Now the Exiles, more from England, Argentina and the South Pacific than Ireland, have a one-point lead in Pool One, and also a better points and try difference but still have to aim for maximum points from both the remaining games.

Perpignan had been fired by the resentment of having been denied, cheated they would say, of at least a loser bonus point in the opening encounter at Madejski Stadium a week earlier.

A revamped back row, as Henry Tuilaga nursed two broken ribs, tore into the Irish defence and the trio of man of the match Olivier Olibeau, Nathan Hines and Gerrie Britz caused havoc in the line-out. Behind them, Scotland scrum-half Chris Cusiter looked sharper than opposite number Peter Richards. But a thoroughly disjointed first half produced just a penalty apiece from Cdric Rosalen and Peter Hewat. From the restart, Perpignan had even more territorial advantage, Rosalen added a second penalty after just a couple of minutes, again answered by Hewat, and when a third bounced off the upright Rosalen followed up with the try-scoring pass to Christophe Manas as Delon Armitage was in the bin for a high tackle on Adrien Plante.

The conversion and a third Rosalen penalty already seemed enough to seal the affair but a late forward drive, which saw Hines make the touch down, turned a morale-restoring victory into a rout.

Perpignan: Tries Manas, Hines; Conversions Rosalen (2); Penalties Rosalen (3). London Irish: Penalties Hewat (2).

Perpignan: P Montgomery (rep J Porical, 61); C Manas, F Martin Aramburu (rep S Meyer, 79), J-P Grandclaude (rep F Aramburu, 80), A Plante; C Rosalen, C Cusiter (rep N Durand, 59); P Freshwater (capt, rep N Mas, 57), G Guirado (rep M Ladhuie, 57), K Pulu, O Olibeau, N Hines, G Britz (rep C Geli, 79), D Chouly, R Alvarez Kairelis.

London Irish: P Hewat; T de Vedia, D Armitage, Seilala Mapusua, S Takicakibau; M Catt (rep S Geraghty, 40), P Richards (rep P Hodgson, 60); C Dermody (rep D Murphy, 71), D Paice, R Skuse (rep T Lea'aetoa, 59), H Kennedy, R Casey (capt), K Roche (rep R Thorpe, 34), D Danaher, P Murphy.

Referee: C Damasco (Italy)