England's selectors should be given the clearest evidence yet of whether the in-form Shane Geraghty is made of the right stuff, when he faces his toughest test of the season to date tonight. Geraghty has attracted rave reviews for his form since he replaced the injured Stephen Myler, who had also been receiving much praise himself at No 10 for the Northampton Saints at the start of the season.
The summer recruit from London Irish is already part of England's senior squad. But his form has been so good that some have tipped him to assume the fly-half berth ahead of Jonny Wilkinson for the Autumn internationals. His credentials are sure to be severely tested tonight, when the Saints take on the French giants Perpignan at the Stade Aime Giral in the Heineken Cup. The prospect of facing the French champions should be a daunting one, but they are unlikely to be cowed. While Perpignan were losing to the minnows Treviso last weekend, Geraghty was putting in his latest man-of-the-match performance in scoring 21 points as the Saints upset Munster.
"We've seen Shane play at Under 20 level and through the age groups for England," said the Northampton coach Jim Mallinder. "He is a special talent and what he did [against Munster] was back up a number of very good performances this season. That was probably his best performance." Given their contrasting fortunes in recent years, in seems incongruous that Perpignan have yet to win a Heineken Cup, while their visitors were the second English side to take the crown in 2000.
Northampton have suffered the pain of relegation from England's top flight since, but bounced back to win the European Challenge Cup last year. The Catalans won the Top 14 last year, but they started their latest bid for Europe's top prize in humiliating fashion. Their defeat to the Italian champions Treviso last weekend brought headlines decrying "Catastrophe" in the French press. Elsewhere in the competition this evening, Sale Sharks will be hoping to shake off the effects of a hefty opening day defeat when they welcome the Cardiff Blues.
Sale, who welcome back Charlie Hodgson at fly-half, were comprehensively beaten by Toulouse at the weekend, and another defeat would make progression difficult. "This is a massive game for us, not just in terms of giving ourselves a chance to advance out of the pool stages of the Heineken Cup," said Sale's director of rugby Kingsley Jones. "Cardiff have a very strong squad and the experience of reaching the semi-finals in this competition. They will be coming here expecting to win."
Cardiff opened up with a 20-6 win over Harlequins, and their coach Dai Young said: "We know how difficult a place Sale is to go. "We won there in the Anglo-Welsh last season but this will be a bit more difficult for us. Now we'll see what the boys coming in can do - and that is part and parcel of having a squad."