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Geraghty takes next step with England Saxons
January 31, 2007

Young fly-half Shane Geraghty still can't believe how far he's come in the space of the last four months.

At the start of the season the 20-year-old was labelled one for the future by England's coaches, who were toying with the idea of sending him off round the world on the international sevens circuit.

But Geraghty seized the chance handed to him by London Irish, where coach Brian Smith has a reputation for giving young three-quarters the opportunity to impress.

He took advantage of injuries to Barry Everitt and Riki Flutey to move from centre to fly-half against Leicester in November and was in the England squad by the time he took a break after starting eight of the next nine games.

Instead of training with the Exiles at their homespun Sunbury base last week, or jetting round the globe with the Sevens boys, he was at Twickenham training alongside Jonny Wilkinson and Andy Farrell.

And on Friday he gets to make his debut for a star-studded England Saxons side against Italy A at Exeter's superbly-appointed Sandy Park stadium in Devon.

"If you'd have asked me at the start of the season I'd just have said my ambitions were to start some games at 12 or 10 for London Irish," said Geraghty.

"I was very hopeful that I'd be picked for the England Sevens side and if I was lucky to be pushing to be involved with England Saxons, but a couple of months ago I wasn't even playing for my club.

"The opportunity came very quickly when both Riki Flutey and Barry Everitt were injured and I got into the team at Leicester, the game went okay, and the week after we scored five tries against Northampton.

"I played well and the confidence built from there. Before I'd only got to play the odd game or two here and there but now I had a run of games, played in the Heineken Cup and got better each week. The team was playing well and it was a great time to get in.

"It was fantastic to be involved with England and alongside people like Jonny Wilkinson and Andy Farrell training at Twickenham. I'd played there with London Irish and with my school, Colston's, in the Daily Mail Schools Cup, but it was very different being there with England. A very exciting atmosphere."

Geraghty's strong suit is his ability to direct a game from midfield with a wide selection of well-disguised passes that belies his years.

He goes looking for work, tackles well and finishes strongly; in short he has the sort of all-court game that every coach would love to utilise.

He's received valuable guidance on and off the pitch from Mike Catt, the World Cup winner who lines up alongside him each week at Irish and puts the boot in when needed on the training ground.

"Catty had always been going on at me in training about cutting out the little mistakes, not trying to throw too many 50-50 balls," said Geraghty.

"He can be a tough judge and I'd been trying lots of little things but now more of those off-loads are working. It's going to be good having him at 12 alongside me against Italy because he knows my game so well."

Geraghty enters new territory in other ways this Friday night. He hasn't ventured much further into the South West than Bristol or Bath to enjoy the sort of passionate support the Saxons will receive in Devon.

He admits to a degree of surprise after his first visit to the Chiefs new Sandy Park home, from where Exeter hope to mount a challenge for promotion to the Premiership next season.

"I've never played in Exeter or down in this part of the South West at all but I'm told there'll be a big crowd - I know they've sold a lot of tickets - and it should be a great night," he said.

"I'm looking forward to it, particularly after having a look at the ground. You might have thought it would be a step down, but in actual fact it's a step up compared with a lot of Premiership clubs.

"If you look at the quality of the playing surface, the stands, at the rubber-crumb training pitch they've got, the weights room and the plunge pool, you see it's a great set-up with all the facilities you could want in the Premiership."

All he needs now is polished performance for the Saxons to prove he's arrived once and for all. With a stellar back-line and a mobile back-row to play alongside, entertainment won't be in short supply.

"I've played against Italian teams at Under-19 and Under-21 level and they're always a hard team to be playing against," he said.

"They're a very proud team and they'll be very physical. If we can match them in that area, particularly early on, then I don't see why we can't go on and win the game and win it well.

"Our build up has been very relaxed. Everyone knows that if we play well together as a team that we'll do well and a lot of people will be pushing for places in the first team."

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