French focus: Top 14
Posted 405 days ago
NO DOUBT about it, Shane Geraghty’s stint in Brive has been eventful, writes Gavin Mortimer. The 25-year-old was to the fore again on Sunday, steering the unfashionable French club into the semi-finals of the Amlin Challenge Cup courtesy of a 15-11 defeat of the Scarlets. As usual Geraghty made sure his shock of blond hair was noticed, not just by the quality of his game but also by a reckless tackle that earned him ten minutes in the cooler. Geraghty finished the game nursing a knock to his shoulder, the same one he injured on the opening day of the Top 14 season against Agen. Fortunately this time around the damage to the former England fly-half seems slight.
The original injury sidelined Geraghty for five months and derailed his plans to try and force his way back into the England reckoning three years after he won the last of his six caps. His return came against Perpignan on 28 January and coincided with Brive’s first league victory in almost three months. Two more victories followed in quick succession, against Stade Français and Lyon, but Geraghty was then banned for 20 days (along with team-mate Pablo Henn) as a result of a brawl during the win over Lyon. Geraghty was found guilty of “striking another player with the hand, the arm or the fist” but the ban had run its course by the time Brive met the Scarlets.
That victory against the Scarlets means Brive travel to Biarritz on 28 April for the right to meet either Toulon or Stade Français in the Challenge Cup final next month. For English fans the ideal scenario would be Toulon against Brive, a final that would pit Geraghty against Jonny Wilkinson.
In 2007 Geraghty was the 20-year-old tyro tipped to oust Wilkinson from England’s World Cup squad. He burst onto the international stage in stunning style, coming on as a substitute against France in the 2007 Six Nations and inspiring England to a memorable 26-18 victory. The Guardian described Geraghty – who created the match-winning try – as “sublime” and added that “Wilkinson now has some serious competition”.
But the rivalry never materialised. Despite winning another cap against Wales that season, Geraghty failed to make Brian Ashton’s World Cup squad. When Martin Johnson took over from Ashton the following season, Geraghty fell behind Wilkinson, Danny Cipriani and Toby Flood in the England pecking order.
A move from London Irish to Northampton in 2009 failed to resurrect his England aspirations and last summer Geraghty made the decision to move across the Channel. “At Northampton I took one step forward, two backwards. I had the feeling I’d reached an impasse,” Geraghty explained last week in an interview with French newspaper La Montagne. “I didn’t want to go to another club in England. I wanted a new challenge, a place where I could develop as a fly-half.”
Asked to compare the English Premiership with the French Top 14, Geraghty rates the latter the tougher of the two. “Here you have to fight for each point and the victories away from home have a lot more significance,” he said. “In the Top 14 the game is more forward-orientated. You have to first win the right to allow your backs to have the ball.”
Geraghty believes Brive are capable of springing a surprise against Biarritz, although the club’s overriding priority is to avoid the drop to Division Two. They are ninth in the Top 14 and, with trips to Toulouse and Clemont to come, the relegation dogfight promises to be a bitter scrap for survival. Perhaps that’s why Geraghty is being non-committal about his future. Asked if he would be at the club next season, the Englishman replied: “We’re in discussion. Brive have been very good to me and I really like my life here, but I still need a little time to decide.”Like Rugby World? Subscribe to the magazine for the latest comprehensive content.