Mike Catt’s back to lead London Irish’s Euro assaultBy Steve Williams
January 16, 2009
Attack coach Mike Catt starts at fly-half as Guinness Premiership leaders London Irish prepare for their European Challenge Cup Pool 1 clash against Connacht at Madejski Stadium tomorrow (3pm).
Prop Richard Skuse also returns from long-term injury, while Shane Geraghty replaces Elvis Seviali’i in the centre and James Bailey is in for Tom Homer on the left wing.
With four of the six pool games under their belt, unbeaten Irish are already on 20 points and look odds on to ensure home ties in both the quarter and semi-finals.
While Irish should have little difficulty in beating Italian side Rovigo next week, Connacht are a different proposition.
The three best pool runners-up also progress into the quarter-finals and the Irish side are currently ahead of the other contenders with 14 points.
But Irish’s Samoan centre Seilala Mapusua insists the Exiles are not about to relax their grip on the pool – or their chances of winning the cup for the first time.
He said: “We’re going into this game knowing that it’s a must-win game for us so we won’t be taking Connacht lightly.
“They’ve been having a bit of a good run lately with some big wins in the last few weeks, so we’re expecting a really tough game from them.
“The next two weeks are going to be crucial and I think they’ll be coming with a bit of self-belief.
“But we believe in what we’re doing and I think it’s going to make for a really good game.”
The 28-year-old Pacific Islander, who was brought up in New Zealand, has been revelling in Irish’s open style of rugby this season and, along with fellow countryman and co-centre Elvis Seviali’i, has lit-up the turf.
He said: “I think Elvis and I get a bit excited at times but it’s the kind of stuff we grew up doing.
“We always had a rugby ball growing up and we were always trying to out do each other and come up with the next best trick.
“When your practising that much you might as well try it on the field and see how it goes and we’ve been lucky enough to pull it off a couple of times.
“It’s something we enjoy, a bit of champagne rugby.”
It has had the crowds gasping with admiration and underlines Irish’s distinctive running style of rugby, borne out of their own abundance of talent and their own enjoyment of each others’ company on and off the field.
“Everybody’s enjoying coming to training and it’s a really good environment to be in,” said Mapusua.
“There’s a lot of banter, a lot of laughs and also we have a great coaching staff who know how to get the best out of their players and that’s been key to the team being able to perform as they do.
“Joining Irish was one of the best decisions I’ve made for my rugby career.
“I could have still been in New Zealand, but I’ve been blessed to come over here and play in such a great a team and for such a great club.
“I would still be doing this for free! I’m getting paid for doing something that I love.”
London Irish: Hewat; Ojo, Mapusua, Geraghty, Bailey; Catt, Hodgson; Dermody, Paice, Skuse; Hudson, Casey; Thorpe, Armitage, Hala’Ufia. Reps: Murphy, Coetzee, Lea’aetoa, Johnson, Danaher, Seviali’i, Homer.