European Challenge Cup
Casey targets European glory
December 10, 2008
London Irish skipper Bob Casey is hoping for another bonus-point win on Thursday night © Getty Images
London Irish are currently leading the way in the Premiership, and their inspirational skipper Bob Casey has now also set his sights set on bringing the European Challenge Cup to the Madejski Stadium at the end of the season.
The Exiles were left distraught in 2006 when they came off second best in a 36-34 thriller against Gloucester in the Challenge Cup final, and Irish international lock Casey is determined that his side won't experience the feeling again.
Casey's side go into Thursday's clash with Dax top of Pool One with three bonus-point victories under their belts and all eyes on a fourth. "We were devastated by that defeat in the 2006 European Challenge Cup final and we are determined to go one better this season," said Casey. "We want to qualify for another final.
"It was a good professional performance at Dax in Round 3 because the horrendous conditions and state of the pitch were the worst I have experienced for a long, long time and to score that many points was a great credit to the entire team. I am sure we will also have learnt a fair bit from that and now we are concentrating on the return match on Thursday.
"Dax put out something of a mixed side - and we would have been disappointed if we had not got our third bonus point win - but we will prepare for a tough round four match. And although the match is being played on Thursday, which means a slightly quicker turnaround, that does not worry us and we are targeting another fully professional performance and another try bonus point win.
"The objective is to keep going for maximum points in all three remaining games for the simple reason that after the Pool stages seeding becomes all-important as it means the top two seeds can be at home in the quarter and semi-finals - if they keep on winning."
For the visit of Dax Irish are able to call on Delon Armitage and Nick Kennedy, freshly returned from autumn Test duty, as they look to tighten their grip on Pool One. Armitage starts at full-back, with lock Kennedy on the bench as head coach Toby Booth makes several changes following a fruitful trip to south-west France.
There are starts up-front for the likes of Dan Murphy, James Buckland, James Hudson and Richard Thorpe, while Peter Hewat switches to fly-half and there is a full debut for Argentinian scrum-half Alfredo Lalanne. Kennedy, meanwhile, is among five internationals on the bench, where he is joined by Clarke Dermody, Danie Coetzee, Warren Fury and Shane Geraghty.
With the European break currently preoccupying the Premiership sides, it will be down to Irish to ensure that their blistering domestic form continues through the Christmas period. If Irish can use their international class to keep up their charge at the top then there could be some fireworks come the semi-finals. "It is unbelievable - but brilliant," said Casey. "Admittedly there have only been eight rounds so far and there is still a lot of rugby to be played but we are delighted with the way things have gone so far this season in both Europe and the Premiership.
"Even when we had key players missing during the autumn internationals, both with England and the Pacific Islands, we won three from three so credit must go not only to the players but also the coaching staff. The coaches have done a tremendous job in building up an extremely happy squad with a great work ethic and we are just enjoying all the challenges coming our way right now.
"And in the European Challenge Cup that means going one better than in 2006 - we want to win this tournament."
European Challenge Cup (All kick-offs LOCAL times)
Thursday 11 December, 2008
Pool 1 London Irish v Dax 19.45 James Jones (W) Sky Sports / France 4
Friday 12 December, 2008
Pool 1 Connacht Rugby v Rugby Rovigo 18.30 David Rosich (F)
Saturday 13 December, 2008
Pool 2 Toulon v Montpellier 20.45 Andrew Small (E) Eurosport France
Pool 3 Petrarca Rugby v Bucuresti Oaks 15.00 John Lacey (I)
Pool 3 Worcester Warriors v Bourgoin 15.00 Andy McPherson (S)
Pool 5 Viadana v Mont de Marsan 19.00 Greg Garner (E)
Sunday 14 December, 2008
Pool 2 Bristol Rugby v Northampton Saints 15.00 Carlo Damasco (It)
Pool 4 Newcastle Falcons v Overmach Parma 15.00 Pascal Gauzere (F)
Pool 4 Cetransa El Salvador v Brive 12.30 Paolo Ventura (It)
Pool 5 Saracens v Bayonne 15.00 Neil Paterson (S)