Planet Rugby

Exiles hold their nerve

05th April 2008 16:41


Declan Danaher try v perpignan

Turning point: Declan Danaher goes over for the Exiles' try

In a battle of iron wills, it was London Irish who emerged victorious from the first Heineken Cup quarter-final on Saturday, beating Perpignan 20-9 at the Madejski.

Peter Hewat punished the Catalans' second-half indiscipline with some terrific kicking from the tee, while his line-kicking from hand kept the visitors well away from the Exiles' try-line.

It wasn't exactly a game of two halves, Irish had probably just the upper hand in the first half as well, but the difference between the periods was marked. Where the Catalans had rushed up with structure and timing in defence in the first forty, their attempts at disruption and demolition in the second grew quickly more and more ragged. In the first half, the visitors had shown flickers of imagination, but the fires failed to ignite in the second half - the only flash of red was the card flourished at Viliami Vaki in the final minute for a stupid punch.

The Exiles' game was based around pouring water upon any opposition flame, rather than sparking anything of their own. They did try to set things alight in the first 20 minutes, but with Perpignan's defence well-drilled at least in terms of ensuring the opposition was covered from touchline to touchline, the risks were quickly eschewed in favour of the kind of stuff that wins World Cups and which the new laws in the south are trying to do away with. It was thus ironic, and possibly a little treasuresome to Exiles fans, that Percy Montgomery was on the receiving end.

There were two key areas: line-out and second-half discipline. The Exiles' line-out was magnificent, losing only 2 of 21 on the throw and stealing a further six from the opposition. 21 throws is a lot to have, but when the ball was kicked open, Hewat would usually return it with interest and into touch back near the Perpignan tryline. The Catalans thus opted to keep pumping it to touch upfield rather than have any kind of touchline set piece near their own in-goal, running it from deep never seemed to be considered.

The first half penalty count was 7-5 in favour of the visitors. In the second half, the Irish did not add to that seven, while Perpignan kept racking them up. Hewat kept racking up the points as a consequence, and when he made it 20-9 just after the hour mark, that was pretty much that.

That first half was fine Heineken fare: rugged, tense, technical, and passionate. The home side placed a couple of early markers of intent by either spraying the ball wide to Sailosi Tagicakibau and Topsy Ojo quickly, or bringing them - particularly Tagicakibau - off their wings to get some early pace on the ball. It didn't open things up much, with the red-shirted back-row mowing down anything clad in green, often well behind the gain line. The early hits were monsters

Montgomery opened the scoring with a penalty after a high tackle by Ojo on Chris Cusiter, and there was an early turning point shortly after. Perpignan took a line-out, and Ovidiu Tonita, Nathan Hines, and Cusiter all made good ground to take the red pack to the 5m line. Henry Tuilagi then had a go, but knocked the ball on. The Irish scrum was almost shoved off its own ball, and conceded a 5m scrum to Perpignan. It was the only moment the Irish were truly on the rack all game, and the visitors botched it when they spread it wide.

Tagicakibau intercepted at a crucial moment after 20 minutes, when Perpignan had managed a rare steal at line-out time, and the subsequent counter-attack yielded a penalty chance for Hewat to equalise, and then he gave his side the lead a couple of minutes later after Mike Catt's clearance had Montgomery and Cusiter telling each other to pick the ball up.

Montgomery equalised when Tonita forced a penalty with good support of Jean-Philippe Grandclaude's break, but then Irish drew the first blood, when Catt's cross-kick was whipped off Christophe Manas' fingertips by Declan Danaher, who dived over for the score.

Catt left the pitch shortly after, his knee still smarting from a tackle by Tonita earlier in the game, and was replaced by Shane Geraghty, whose control of the game bore many of the hallmarks of the man who had made way for him on the day.

Perpignan had ten minutes to get something back before half-time, and they went gamely about their task. Marius Tincu caught the Exiles pack napping with a couple of cheeky quick throws and made good ground, and then the game's second turning point: Paul Hodgson thumping Adrien Planté into touch just as the winger was diving for a try. Montgomery did make it 11-9 from a penalty, but it seemed little reward.

After the break, the story is simple. The Exiles ruled the roost at the line-outs, Peter Hewat kept on kicking the ball into touch deep in Catalan territory, and punishing every indiscretion friom the visitors. Three penalties between minutes 51 and 63 sealed the game.

Other kicks from hand kept the Irish at the safer end of the pitch - the ball barely came near the Irish tryline until the final minute, when Vaki's frustration at being knocked into touch just before scoring boiled over. It was all very calm, controlled, and clinical stuff, and Perpignan had no answer.

But... the Irish didn't seem to offer much in attack, and it should cause a twinge of concern. The Exiles now have a home semi-final, which ought, on form, to be against Toulouse. You need a little more than cool heads against them.

Man of the match: Peter Hewat stood out most on watching because all of his good work was very public, but the real fuel in the Irish engine-room was from line-out supremo Nick Kennedy. He was magnificent.

Moment of the match: Only one try, and not much in attack beyond that, so Declan Danaher's dive was the moment to brighten our day.

Villain of the match: The almost-appropriately-named Viliami Vaki for his punch. So pointless.

The scorers:

For London Irish:

Try: Danaher

Pens: Hewat 5

For Perpignan:

Pens: Montgomery 3

Red card: Vaki (Perpignan, 80, punching)

London Irish: 15 Peter Hewat, 14 Topsy Ojo, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 Seilala Mapusua, 11 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 10 Mike Catt, 9 Paul Hodgson, 8 Phil Murphy, 7 Steffon Armitage, 6 Declan Danaher, 5 Bob Casey (c), 4 Nick Kennedy, 3 Faan Rautenbach, 2 David Paice, 1 Clarke Dermody.

Replacements: 16 Tonga Lea'aetoa, 17 Danie Coetzee, 18 James Hudson, 19 Richard Thorpe, 20 Delon Armitage, 21 Peter Richards, 22 Shane Geraghty.

Perpignan: 15 Percy Montgomery, 14 Christophe Manas, 13 David Marty, 12 Jean-Philippe Grandclaude, 11 Adrien Plante, 10 Nicolas Laharrague, 9 Chris Cusiter, 8 Henry Tuilagi, 7 Ovidiu Tonita, 6 Viliami Vaki, 5 Nathan Hines, 4 Rimas Alvarez Kairelis (c), 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Marius Tincu, 1 Sebastien Chobet.

Replacements: 16 Guilhem Guirado, 17 Perry Freshwater, 18 Sebastian Bozzi, 19 Christophe Porcu, 20 Nicolas Durand, 21 Gavin Hume, 22 Damien Chouly.

Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)

Touch judges: Simon McDowell (Ireland), Colin Stanley (Ireland)

Television match official: John Sheehan (Ireland)

By Danny Stephens

Forthcoming Fixtures
All times are local
Aviva Premiership
Friday , November 28
Bath vs HarlequinsBath vs Harlequins Preview
Saturday , November 29
Leicester Tigers vs WaspsLeicester Tigers vs Wasps Preview
Exeter vs SaracensExeter vs Saracens Preview
Sunday , November 30
London Irish vs GloucesterLondon Irish vs Gloucester Preview
London Welsh vs NorthamptonLondon Welsh vs Northampton Preview
Newcastle Falcons vs Sale SharksNewcastle Falcons vs Sale Sharks Preview
More Aviva Premiership fixtures
International Match
Saturday , November 29
Wales vs South AfricaWales vs South Africa Preview
England vs AustraliaEngland vs Australia Preview
More International Match fixtures
Guinness PRO12
Friday , November 28
Munster vs UlsterMunster vs Ulster Preview
Cardiff Blues vs TrevisoCardiff Blues vs Treviso Preview
Saturday , November 29
Zebre vs EdinburghZebre vs Edinburgh Preview
Leinster vs OspreysLeinster vs Ospreys Preview
Connacht vs ScarletsConnacht vs Scarlets Preview
Sunday , November 30
Glasgow Warriors vs DragonsGlasgow Warriors vs Dragons Preview
More Guinness PRO12 fixtures
European Rugby Challenge Cup
Thursday , December 4
La Rochelle vs Exeter19:45
More European Rugby Challenge Cup fixtures
Top 14
Saturday , November 29
Toulon vs Clermont AuvergneToulon vs Clermont Auvergne Preview
Oyonnax vs Bordeaux-Begles18:30
Lyon vs Montpellier18:30
La Rochelle vs Bayonne18:30
Castres vs Racing Metro Paris18:30
Toulouse vs Grenoble20:45
Sunday , November 30
Stade Francais vs Brive18:00
More Top 14 fixtures
Recent Results
All times are local
Aviva Premiership
Sunday , November 23
Saracens 24 - 31 NorthamptonSaracens vs Northampton Report
London Welsh 5 - 26 Leicester TigersLondon Welsh vs Leicester Tigers Report
More Aviva Premiership results
International Match
Georgia 35 - 24 JapanGeorgia vs Japan Report
More International Match results
Guinness PRO12
Treviso 24 - 24 LeinsterTreviso vs Leinster Report
Edinburgh 28 - 13 Cardiff BluesEdinburgh vs Cardiff Blues Report
More Guinness PRO12 results
Aviva Premiership
Saturday , November 22
London Irish 23 - 33 BathLondon Irish vs Bath Report
Exeter 31 - 15 WaspsExeter vs Wasps Report
More Aviva Premiership results
International Match
Italy 6 - 22 South AfricaItaly vs South Africa Report
England 28 - 9 SamoaEngland vs Samoa Report
France 13 - 18 ArgentinaFrance vs Argentina Report
Wales 16 - 34 New ZealandWales vs New Zealand Report
Scotland 37 - 12 TongaScotland vs Tonga Report
Ireland 26 - 23 AustraliaIreland vs Australia Report
Romania 18 - 9 CanadaRomania vs Canada Report
More International Match results
Aviva Premiership
Friday , November 21
Harlequins 12 - 16 Sale SharksHarlequins vs Sale Sharks Report
Newcastle Falcons 20 - 10 GloucesterNewcastle Falcons vs Gloucester Report
More Aviva Premiership results
International Match
Fiji 20 - 14 USAFiji vs USA Report
More International Match results
Guinness PRO12
Dragons 12 - 38 MunsterDragons vs Munster Report
Ulster 25 - 16 OspreysUlster vs Ospreys Report
Connacht 43 - 3 ZebreConnacht vs Zebre Report
Scarlets 19 - 9 Glasgow WarriorsScarlets vs Glasgow Warriors Report
More Guinness PRO12 results
Aviva Premiership
Sunday , November 16
Leicester Tigers 21 - 21 SaracensLeicester Tigers vs Saracens Report
Wasps 71 - 7 London WelshWasps vs London Welsh Report
More Aviva Premiership results
International Match
Ireland 49 - 7 GeorgiaIreland vs Georgia Report
More International Match results
Aviva Premiership
Saturday , November 15
Sale Sharks 36 - 8 London IrishSale Sharks vs London Irish Report
More Aviva Premiership results
Aviva Premiership Table
5Leicester Tigers821