LONDON IRISH’S involvement in the European Challenge Cup now hangs in the balance following defeat to FC Grenoble at Madejski Stadium this afternoon.
Although a late rally from the Exiles was unable to yield what could have been a vital bonus point, Tom Coventry’s side must now win their final match of Pool 5 at Agen next Saturday and pick up the additional points if they are to stand any chance of progressing to the quarter-finals.
However, they also need today’s opponents to defeat Edinburgh and also deny them a bonus point if Irish are to snatch second place from the Scottish side.
The hosts would grab late tries through replacement Dom Waldouck and Alex Lewington, but the damage had already been done.
Through first-half scores from Armand Batlle and Nigel Hunt, along with another after the break from Charl McLeod – combined with the 13 points slotted over by Jonathan Wisniewski – saw the visitors to victory and a place in the last eight.
Coach Coventry made 11 changes to the side which held out to defeat Newcastle Falcons 20-15 in the Aviva Premiership last time out.
Yet those picked for the clash took to the field looking to build on a four-game winning streak on home soil – and began at a frantic pace.
The contest was just seconds old when Tom Cruse charged down a clearance close to the Grenoble five-metre line.
Irish continued to pin the visitors to their own game line and were eventually awarded a penalty monents later which Geraghty slammed over from a central position to open the scoring.
Top 14 outfit Grenoble, however, were quick to rally back and were soon beginning to ask questions of the Irish rearguard and threatened to score when a penalty was kicked into touch over by the corner.
An opening would arrive, but fortunately for Exiles the play was called back for an earlier infringement and only a penalty was awarded, which Wisniewski put between the posts.
The same player would kick Grenoble in front when the hosts were penalised for offside, only to be pulled back minutes later when Geraghty was again spot on from the tee.
In the phases leading up to the first penalty call, however, Irish were dealt a blow when Scott Steel took a knock and was to leave the field concussed, with Darren Allinson taking his position at half back.
Geraghty was also involved as Irish made a charge for the line, combining with both Tom Fowlie and captain Luke Narraway as the French side were cut wide open.
Grenoble, however, would eventually reign the opposition in and the play broke down.
But while the visitors defence was able to recover, the Irish back line was soon breached, with Armand Batlle dabbing down in the corner to score the first try of the afternoon.
The move would begin from a maul, with the ball spun out to the left, where the Exiles were desperately short of cover as Gio Aplon and Batlle doubled up on Topsy Ojo.
And Aplon was unselfish, committing his opposite number to the tackle before slipping in his team-mate who crossed the line on the overlap.
Wisniewski would miss the conversion, but made amends shortly after when clearing the posts via another penalty handed to the away side for offside and made it 11-6.
Moments before this, Geraghty had the home faithful excited when stealing in to win the ball and send Lewington on his way.
The winger still had some ground to cover and duly tried his best, but his handling was to let him down and Grenoble took a scrum when the ball was dropped.
Topsy Ojo also attempted to warm up those sat in the freezing stands when powering his way past a number of attempted tackles, but the full-back was eventually stopped in his tracks and the attack was stalled by the guests.
Yet this spell of endeavor produced by the home side was dealt a crushing blow when Grenoble opened up a commanding lead after Nigel Hunt drove over the line under the posts.
The centre would conclude a period of pressure from the visitors, with Hunt timing his run to perfection to collect a pass and make a bolt for the line.
Wisniewski would improve the score and Irish’s recent run of good form at home was now under serious threat.
But the Exiles were handed a welcome lifeline when Grenoble captain Ben Hand was shown the yellow card.
Irish had managed to fight their way into the opposition territory when Hand was sent to the bin, and his departure allowed the hosts to crank up the pressure.
Quick hands shown by Geraghty and Lewington allowed the latter to hit the ground running once again, but the away side were up to the challenge.
The perseverance would result in Halani Aulika going over, but any celebrations were cut short by the referee, who blew up and awarded Grenoble a penalty for a maul infringement, which they punted into touch for a moments respite.
Irish would go in at the break trailing 21-6 and perhaps with some encouragement of getting back into the tie.
But such hopes were dashed just five minutes after the restart when McLeod grabbed Grenoble’s third try of the afternoon.
The opportunity would come from an overthrow at an Irish lineout, where the scrum half sensed his chances and crossed the whitewash with little resistance from the opposition.
Wisniewski again had the range from the tee and the game, as a contest, was as good as over.
Grenoble were now going through the motions, yet they continued to have the home side on the back foot, although Irish were not helping themselves as poor handling, discipline and missed tackles epitomized what was a miserable afternoon for the side.
But they would not concede again and, albeit against the run of play, grabbed a try of their own late on through Waldouck.
The replacement barged his way over following good work from Lewington, who set off down the flank before offloading to Waldouck, who held off two opponents before squeezing the ball home.
Geraghty was deadly accurate with the conversion and attentions were now turning towards a possible losing bonus point.
Time, however, would not allow Exiles to take something from the game, although there was still enough left on the clock for Lewington to touch down in the corner and cut the gap even further.
But this was to be the final play of the game, as Geraghty’s conversion attempt would be met by the full time whistle.
The kick was someway out and right on the touchline, and although getting his kick on target, the ball would drop just short of the posts and a difficult afternoon for Irish had come to an end.
Irish must now prepare for a trip to France and Agen next Saturday (7.45pm) knowing only a bonus-point victory will suffice if they are to remain in the competition.
LONDON IRISH: Ojo; Lewington; Mulchrone; Brophy Clews (Waldouck 55); Fowlie; Fowlie; Geraghty; Steele (Allinson 10); Smallbone (Court 70); Cruse (Stevens 51); Aulika (Halavatau 63); Curry; Sinclair (Sisi 41); Guest; Trayfoot (Gilsenan 60); Narraway (c)
Tries: Waldouck, Lewington
Pens: Geraghty x2
Rep not used: Williams;
FC GRENOBLE: Aplon; Dupont; Farrell; Hunt; Batlle (Kiloni 56); Wisniewski (Gelin 70); McLeod (Saseras 70); Taumalolo (Coulson 60); Heguy (Jammes 60); Edwards (Desmaison 55); Hand (c); Kimlin (Marie 70); Vaderglas; Diaby; Grice (Setephano 55)
Tries: Batlle, Hunt, McLeod
Cons: Wisniewski x2
Pens: Wisniewski x3