LONDON IRISH head coach Toby Booth is not afraid to go outside his sport to make comparisons.
Heineken Cup group rivals Toulon, for instance are, he says, the Manchester City of rugby while competing with the likes of Munster, whom the Exiles face today (5.45pm), is akin to an arm wrestle.
And while the French team have Jonny Wilkinson at fly-half, fellow Pool C opponents Ospreys have James Hook and Dan Biggar fighting for the same berth and Munster have Ronan O’Gara at number 10, Booth compares his own Ryan Lamb to one of the most mercurial Test bowlers in the history of cricket.
“He’s the Shane Warne of that group,” the London Irish boss declared this week ahead of the Madejski Stadium clash with Munster in Reading. “He has more of a box of tricks without question but they (Wilkinson, Hook and O’Gara) have that massive experience. Munster are almost like an international side and all the successful clubs are set up that way. Maybe we buck the trend and do things a little differently.
“They’ll pressurise you, try and squeeze you to make a mistake and then capitalise on your mistakes. That’s what those excellent tactical kickers give you.”
Booth, though, is happy to buck that trend, adding: “It is a dilemma but we like to be ambitious, to be honest.
“If we’re going down we’re going to go down playing and this is what this team stands for. It can be frustrating and from a coaching point of view you might throw yourself off the top of a building at times but when we get it right it’s very, very rewarding, enthusiastic and exciting for all of us – players, coaches, fans. And we don’t know any other way.”
That way is proving successful so far this season as London Irish go into the Heineken Cup campaign sitting atop the Aviva Premiership in England with a two-point lead over Northampton Saints after five games, the highest points scored total at 155, the biggest points difference and the second largest number of tries scored, 17.
“That’s how we believe the game should be played. The positive comparison is if you look at Toulouse in terms of that they play the same way. They haven’t changed how they’ve played, they believe it’s always been the way with tackle law interpretations or whatever.’’
Booth accepts that beating Munster would be a significant scalp, even at home.
“I think so. In my time we’ve never played a competitive fixture against them, so it’s always nice to have a new occasion. You look at the support and what a phenomenon it is and to derail the ‘Red Machine’ would be quite an achievement. We believe we’ve got the game, on our day, that can beat anybody and that’s important but, statistically, historically, it’s a very tall order.
“Everyone knows what Munster’s about. They’re very much like an international side. As you’d expect, there’s lots of field position, lots of control, lots of denying you control and it’s probably their fundamental strength that you have to overcome.’’
The Exiles failed the challenge disastrously last season, failing to capitalise on a terrific opening-night win at the RDS over Leinster by losing home and away to a below-par Scarlets outfit.
Those defeats are still open sores at London Irish and Booth joked: “We don’t mention the ‘S’ word.
“But to be fair, we’ve spoken a lot about the season as a whole and Scarlets was part of that, from a learning perspective, but there’s no relevance for us otherwise unless we get a win on the weekend and then there is similarity in the situations.”
And while Booth is content to strike out on a different path to that of his group rivals, he admitted he was envious of Munster’s European record.
“In the Heineken Cup, if you get more than two things wrong in six games, you’re not going through. Munster have gone through the last 12 times and I’m sure they’re already pencilled in for their quarter-final spot, whether it be home or away. It’s a reflection of what they are as a club and what clubs like London Irish aspire to be in Europe. It’s a good benchmark for us all.”