Still All To Play For

Posted on: 30 April 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Nick relives the painful Heineken Cup semi-final defeat against Toulouse and turns his attentions to Sunday’s Premiership clash with Leeds.

For people who have never watched a game of professional rugby, it may look like a brutal, savage and ruthless sport, and at times they might be right.

But you are always prepared to take the knocks, bruises, aches and pains before crossing the white line in the hope that after the 80 minutes you’ll have a result to look back on and be proud of yourself, and your team.

What that doesn’t prepare you for is the emotion within the game itself. As you may well be aware, London Irish were beaten 21-15 by Toulouse in the Heineken Cup semi-final last Saturday at Twickenham.

To say that I’m getting over the result now, a couple of days after would be a complete lie.

It was the biggest game in our club’s 110-year existence and we were within inches of beating one of rugby’s superpowers.

On Friday, the night before the game we all stayed at home and treated it like a normal home fixture as Twickenham is just down the road from our training base.

I went round to Shane Geraghty and Topsy Ojo’s house to watch the Newcastle - Worcester match on TV.  We had some ice-cream, a bit of a laugh; I came home and watched the Jonathan Ross Show and went straight to sleep.

There was an evident buzz around us all week and we were all so excited for Saturday. But now, looking back, Saturday is still a nightmare.

I keep running several incidents through my mind thinking “what if”. It’s hard to get away from the fact we came so close.

We were the only team playing rugby in the last half an hour and we had three great chances to win the game. When the final whistle went we just dropped to our knees.

It was more to do with exhaustion. It was a very hot day and it was extremely tough to play in. But once we were back in the changing room, things started to sink in.

I looked around and it was a very sad place, we were completely gutted. We really believed we could win and to realise we wouldn’t be playing in the final at Cardiff really hurt.

I think the best thing we can do now is put a performance on when we play Leeds on Sunday. It’s the only way we can get our minds off what happened.

We were given two days off after the game but even on Tuesday when we returned to training people were still looking down and the usual banter just wasn’t there.

My phone was buzzing a lot after the game.  I had lots of family and friends at Twickenham to watch, and no matter how much they want to help you get over the game, you just have to find your own way to deal with it.

I’ve been beaten heavily before in my career, but this is without doubt the most painful.

After the game I missed the meal and went straight home. I only live a stones throw away from Twickenham and I just had to get away.

But a few of us went out later on to drown our sorrows. I got home about 3.30am on Sunday morning and thought it would be a good idea to watch the game again on TV. Looking back that was probably a bad idea and I’m still finding it hard to let certain things go.

But we’ve got two Premiership games left and the season is starting to wind down. Leeds on Sunday will not be as comfortable as people are trying to suggest.

They were relegated a couple of weeks ago but their players are playing for their lives. They’re playing for their professional futures and they’re going to be really up for it.

There are no easy games in the Premiership and we’re still fighting to get into the top six so we can play in the Heineken Cup again next year.

A lot of us are also going to be doing our utmost to impress any international selectors that might be watching so there really is a lot still to play for.

There are some amazing perks about playing rugby for a living but I’m finding it hard to deal with last week’s loss. Sunday’s game can’t come soon enough.

London Irish were beaten 21-15 in the semi-final of the Heineken Cup at Twickenham on Saturday. This Sunday they return to Guinness Premiership action when relegated Leeds Tykes visit the Madjeski Stadium (kick off 3pm).

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