London Irish celebrated reaching their first Heineken Cup quarter-final, which will be at home at the Madejski Stadium in April, and a rematch against the team they beat into second place in Pool One, Perpignan. A fiery and feral encounter is on the cards as the teams' previous meeting in Reading ended with three Perpignan players in the sin bin and the away match cost Irish's forward Kieran Roche a broken eye socket when he was elbowed by Perpignan's Perry Freshwater.
The Exiles' joy at making it through with Saturday's four-try win in Treviso was tempered by a suspected torn biceps suffered by their England scrum-half, Peter Richards, who will have a scan today. The worst case being muttered under the breath of Irish's otherwise gleeful officials was a three-month absence, which would rule Richards out of the Six Nations Championship and possibly the very quarter-final that his try and all-round sparkiness here helped achieve.
Everyone from the London Irish chairman, John Conlan, to the coaches Brian Smith and Toby Booth and young fly-half Shane Geraghty was aware that the 25-minute drop-off in performance in the second half was not trophy-winning material. "If you take Mike Catt [the player-coach missing with a calf injury] out of our side, we are an evolving team," said Booth. "For big decisions and that controlling factor, you need experience, and it's all very well with Bob [Casey] up front but he can't see behind. Shane is a model student, we're forcing him to become a leader pretty quickly and the more times he goes through the mill, the better he'll be for it."
Geraghty, currently in the Saxons squad after winning his England cap a year ago, ran and passed brilliantly in patches and his quick-thinking cross-kick gave Tomas de Vedia the second Irish try on a plate. But Geraghty was discussing with team-mates almost as soon as the final whistle went whether he had taken the right options as Irish allowed a 19-0 half-time lead to slip to 19-11 before full-back Peter Hewat's second try in the last minute secured a bonus point. "It felt like we completely stopped playing," Geraghty said. "To talk about it straight after is a good thing to do, to make sure it won't happen again. We set ourselves the goal last year of getting through the group but we only won one game. This season we wanted a home quarter-final and we've worked hard to fix what went wrong last year."
Smith's concern is a tough programme of eight Premiership fixtures between now and then, including seven on successive weekends.
Everyone has their own problems. The new Italy coach, Nick Mallett, was at the match, and said he was surprised and not at all impressed at the large number of non-Italians playing for Treviso and the other top Italian clubs. The irony that Mallett was raised in South Africa and used to coach the Springboks clearly does not come into it.Reuse content