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EDF Energy Cup Group Decider - Blues v London Irish Preview

28th November 2006

Tickets are on general sale for the winner takes all clash against London Irish in the EDF Energy Cup.

In the build up to this Friday's crunch EDF Energy Cup group decider against London Irish, Paddy Lennon takes a look at the opponents.

There are only a limited number of stand tickets still available and with the Blues in a strong position in the group, we welcome a strong crowd to cheer the team on to a place in the semi finals (to be played at the Millennium Stadium in March). Supporters are advised to purchase tickets as soon as possible - Call 029 2030 2030.

Taking the quiet revolution forward

“To change from the club with the poorest try-scoring record in the Premiership at the start of last season to the one with the best at the end was verging on the revolutionary,” said Brian Smith, London Irish Director of Rugby during a pre-season interview.

“Our players embraced an attack oriented style of play and got the reward they deserved. We want to build on that foundation during the coming season.”

The reward for the enterprise shown by the players last season included a third place finish in the Guinness Premiership, which brought with it qualification for this season’s Heineken Cup, and a place in the final of the European Challenge Cup.

“Last season we made a good start to our long term plan to become a real force in the game,” says Smith. “We wanted to do that by playing not only good, entertaining rugby but also winning rugby and I believe we proved that the two are compatible.”

In preparing for the next step up the club’s playing squad was strengthened, eight new players were recruited. The thirty-eight man squad currently contains 17 full internationals and also reflects the continuing contribution of the club’s successful Academy. For the second year in succession four players have graduated to full time professional status.

London Irish knows that the challenge facing its players this season is significantly more demanding than last. Not only are there 22 Guinness Premiership and three EDF Energy Cup fixtures to play, there are also six “test” matches in the Heineken Cup - easily the toughest schedule in the club’s professional history.

Smith says: “This is where we want to be - competing with the best clubs in this country and Europe. Our concern is simply that we do not yet have the same strength of squad as Leicester Tigers, Sale Sharks or Wasps for example, so we are going to have to manage our resources very wisely.”

It has been an inconsistent season to date for the Exiles. As restricting an injury crisis as any the club has suffered in recent seasons has been the underlying cause. At one stage in September less than 50 per cent of the senior squad was available for selection. This has made it difficult to create any stability or continuity in the team.

A playing record of four wins out of nine fixtures in the Guinness Premiership, one win out of two in the EDF Energy Cup, and none out of two in the Heineken Cup reflects the injury situation and its related consequences in terms of restricted team selection and the inconsistency that has followed. The club is hoping that with the return to fitness of many of the long term injured this month, the squad will perform to its considerable potential.

Over the past month the attacking style that enabled the club to do so well last season has started to re-emerge. Last weekend’s five-try win over Northampton Saints was a result of consistent pressure, effective counter-attack and game management that had the opposition struggling. The Exiles will be hoping to take the confidence of that much-needed win into what is sure to be as tough a test as any at the Arms Park Friday evening.