London Irish snuck into the European Rugby Challenge Cup quarter-finals in dramatic fashion on Saturday and centre Fergus Mulchrone admits it is still yet to sink in.
The Exiles had left themselves with plenty to do on the final weekend in Pool 5 following a 28-18 defeat at home to leaders Grenoble in the penultimate round.
They travelled to Agen and held down their part of the bargain, picking up maximum points in a 31-17 win to keep their hopes alive.
And once news had filtered through that Edinburgh had left Grenoble empty-handed, Irish qualified for the knockout stages as the final seed, where they will face Aviva Premiership Rugby rivals Harlequins.
“We didn’t know until we got into the changing rooms and once that got announced we had a good night celebrating – but we got back on Sunday afternoon and straight into training on Monday,” said Mulchrone.
“It is derby in the quarter-finals as well, so it’s a bit more special. I don’t think it has really sunk in yet that we are through.
“We put ourselves under a bit of pressure, having lost to Grenoble at home. The boys involved there were bitterly disappointed and they wanted to put it right. It was fantastic.”
Irish got off to a flying start in France, as Luke Narraway and Tom Fowlie each crossed over inside the opening 20 minutes to establish a healthy lead.
Tom Smallbone added a third before the hosts dotted down twice, either side of half-time to threaten the Exiles’ hopes of qualification.
That is when Mulchrone stepped in, rolling off the back of a maul to grab the bonus-point score, before a penalty try wrapped things up in their favour.
Next up in Aviva Premiership Rugby is a trip to Sale Sharks and Irish will have to produce a similar display to pick up a season’s first away win in the league.
“We felt that if we stuck to our game plan to 60 or 70 minutes, that’s when we would be able to break them with fitness and it told,” added Mulchrone.
“We stuck to our structure very well for the first 30 minutes. We had a bit of a lull and let them back into the game but on the 50 we gathered and went a bit more direct.
“It was fantastic to dot down but I have to give credit to the pack. It was off the back of a maul and then they got the penalty try to finish it off. It gives us great momentum going back into the Premiership, too.”