Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Exiles Aiming to Heal the Heartbreak; London Irish Can Bounce Back from Defeat to Seal Their Place as the Capital's Top Team Next Year

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Exiles Aiming to Heal the Heartbreak; London Irish Can Bounce Back from Defeat to Seal Their Place as the Capital's Top Team Next Year

Article excerpt

Byline: CHRIS JONES

IT WILL be of little comfort this morning after their heartbreaking 36-34 extra-time defeat by Gloucester in the European Challenge Cup Final but London Irish can take pride from the fact that they finished as the capital's top rugby team this season.

Wasps did win manage to win the Powergen Cup. However, they finished fourth, one place below Irish in the Guinness Premiership; a sign that the balance of power may finally be shifting in London. Now all the Irish need is a trophy.

They came tantalisingly close to picking up silverware yesterday at the Twickenham Stoop, with outside-half Barry Everitt missing three separate chances to finish off Gloucester.

Everitt kicked 19 points but saw his conversion attempt miss in the final seconds of normal time, with the scores 31-31. In extra time, Everitt's long-range drop goal drifted wide and it was the same result with a penalty.

James Forrester, the Gloucester No8, scored a great individual try to settle a pulsating contest played in dreadful conditions which forced Irish to abandon their normally free-flowing attacking game and concentrate on forward charges.

Brian Smith, the Irish director of rugby, is aiming to use the desperation that enveloped the squad at the final whistle to fire his men up for next season's campaign, when opposition teams will try to negate the Exiles' rugby.

Smith said: "We were facing mission impossible going into injury time but scored two tries and then had a shot for the win. One defensive aberration cost us the game in the end and I was immensely proud of our effort. We are a young and evolving team and this defeat will make us angry and more dangerous next season.

"It's been a brilliant season and we have shut up those people who wrote us off at the start of the campaign."

Smith's sentiments were echoed by veteran Mike Catt, the Irish captain, whose next assignment is with England in Australia this summer.

Catt has made impressive breaks all season, but none more shattering than the one he managed when sitting on a seat at the post-match press conference.

The chair, covered in Harlequins colours, (leading to conspiracy theories! …

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