Perpignan is always a tough proposition, but for Kieran Roche the trip to the south of France nearly cost him the sight in his left eye. The London Irish flanker suffered a broken socket courtesy of the Perpignan captain Perry Freshwater's elbow, for which he received only a warning as the crowd whistled Roche as though he were malingering.
Coming on top of Juan Leguiz-amon being stamped on, say the Exiles, by Gerrie Britz the week before, the middle section of this year's Heineken Cup has been less than joyous. Yesterday, a committed second half from the home side reversed what they considered to be outrageous misfortune last week.
This was 80 minutes of trench warfare. Defeat would mean the end of Perpignan's ambitions, whereas Irish knew that with a home match against Newport-Gwent Dragons and a trip to Italy to come, a good result would do much towards a place in the quarter-final draw. The game was up for grabs at half-time, so not to get a bonus point was a bitter disappointment.
The Irish were greeted with a chorus of boos and whistles and made to wait for a couple of freezing minutes as numbing rain turned to snow. Then came a minute's silence for a departedPerpignan stalwart.
The first half was strewn with errors as the referee, Carlo Damasco, missed all sorts of misdemeanours. Mike Catt, at No 10 for Irish, seemed focused only on trying to pin the Catalans back; they were concentrating on the driving mauls which the French have come to love as well as disrupting the Irish line-out.
Despite the snow stopping and the wind dying the half saw only a penalty apiece, the first from Cdric Rosalen, the other from Peter Hewat. But Percy Montgomery, playing an hour for his new club before limping off, missed the best chance of a try, knocking on Britz's pass with the line beckoning.
Rosalen had to be content with a second penalty in the second half before, with Delon Armitage in the sin-bin for a high tackle, he missed a long-range opportunity. Ten minutes later Hewat evened the scores, but Rosalen then gave the scoring pass to Christophe Manas and followed up by converting.
Rosalen kicked a third penaltywith less than 10 minutes to go and stretched the lead to 10 points. That lifted both crowd and players, and with less than five minutes to play they stormed the Irish line. It was the Scotland lock Nathan Hines who touched down the clincher for Jrôme Porical to convert.
Perpignan: P Montgomery (J Porical, 61);C Manas, F Martin Aramburu (S Meyer, 79),J-P Grandclaude, A Plante; C Rosalen, C Cusiter (N Durand, 59); P Freshwater (capt; N Mas, 57), G Guirado (M Ladhuie, 57), K Pulu, O Olibeau,N Hines, G Britz (C Geli, 79), R Alvarez Kairelis,D Chouly.
London Irish: P Hewat; T De Vedia, D Armitage, Seilala Mapusua, S Takicakibau; M Catt (SGeraghty, 40), P Richards (P Hodgson, 60);C Dermody (D Murphy, 71), D Paice, R Skuse(T Lea'aetoa, 59), N Kennedy, R Casey (capt), K Roche (R Thorpe, 34), P Murphy, D Danaher.
Referee: C Damasco (Italy).Reuse content