Guinness Premiership
Booth throws down gauntlet to Exiles
May 5, 2009
London Irish head coach Toby Booth looks on during the Guinness Premiership match between Saracens and London Irish at Vicarage Road in Watford, England on December 27, 2008.
Exiles boss Toby Booth has set his sights on some silverware for his side this season © Getty Images
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Toby Booth has challenged his London Irish players to take the next step in their evolution by toppling Harlequins in Saturday's Guinness Premiership semi-final.

Booth is determined to celebrate his first season as Exiles director of rugby with silverware as he attempts to transform the club into a major force in English rugby. They failed to reach the play-offs last season but took encouragement from a superb Heineken Cup run that met its demise against Toulouse in the semi-finals.

Now Booth is busy plotting the next phase of Irish's upward curve which he hopes will lead to the Twickenham showpiece on May 16. "For us to reach the Premiership final would be a great achievement because it's something we haven't done before," he said. "The evolution and psyche of this team is about trying to achieve things we have never managed before.

"We've achieved things successively during my time here - a Challenge Cup final, the Premiership play-offs, Heineken Cup qualification back to back, then reaching the knockout stages and then the semi-final. Making an impact in the Premiership play-offs is the next challenge.

"All the teams left in this competition are here to win it and we like to think we have a chance of doing that. We're probably better prepared as a squad than we have been for any big games in the past. The next step is to reach the final.

"It's another stage in the upward development of this squad. I'm confident we'll give a good account of ourselves and if we do that we'll be there or thereabouts."

Irish finished third in the Premiership table, one place behind capital rivals and Saturday's opponents Quins. Booth has wasted little time in installing his side as underdogs, claiming Quins' exposure to the Heineken Cup this season will give them the edge.

"Quins finished second and we finished third so on that alone means we could be considered underdogs," he said. "We've played three games against each other and we've won those 2-1 so that's going to contradict that argument but we're away from home.

"Their two games against Stade Francais will have given them massive self-belief in what they can achieve. They've probably played in more significant competitions than us this year and that big-game experience means they will be more used to the occasion."

Centre Shane Geraghty and hooker David Paice are definitely missing through injury but prop Faan Rautenbach has an outside chance of facing Quins. Veteran former England outside-half Mike Catt is also expected to be available.

"Catt is wrapped up in cotton wool and embalming fluid. He's been training and getting better," said Booth. "We know what we've got with Catt and we have to manage him accordingly. He's very experienced and a big-game player.

"Unless something goes drastically wrong he'll be available for selection and that's really encouraging."


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