Bank Holiday Monday… the time when many Londoners were enjoying the delights of the Notting Hill Carnival, or a little drink on the South Bank but for the London Irish Squad it was just another day’s training, with the small addition of a hundred or so Season Ticket Holders who were invited to watch.
London Irish haven’t had the best time recently, since the dizzy heights of the 2009 Aviva Premiership Final things haven’t quite gone to plan. On paper they have boasted an array of international players and exciting young talents but on the pitch, on match day, it just didn’t come together. As a regular at the Madjeski Stadium for the past 7 years I’ve seen it all, from the sublime to the ridiculous, however one thing has remained constant is the huge amount of passion and drive shown for the shirt… London Irish players really do ‘Bleed Green’.
As we all know a Director of Rugby is at the centre of any good club, O’Shea & Quins, Tigers & Cockerill and Baxter & Exeter to name but a few. Brian Smith has quickly established himself at the heart of London Irish and he is someone who I have a lot of time and respect for. The no nonsense, straight-talking Australian played a massive role in keeping the club alive last season and speaking to him a few weeks ago he has big ambitions for the club. A mid table finish this season, followed by the top 4 and the playoffs next season. Brian will be the first one to say that last year didn’t go to plan and that there has once again been a ‘mass exodus’ of players away from his club. This is something that doesn’t worry him as he has a huge amount of faith in his current and new players; at Irish this year there is a refreshing lack of ego’s and the squad is filled with focused individuals who are there to play damn good rugby and win matches.
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Yesterday was my first chance to see all of the players in action and chat to a few about the forthcoming season. It was clear that despite the loss at the weekend to Wasps the whole squad are fired up and looking ready to start this year with a bang. In the blissful afternoon sunshine the intensity of training was high and it was great to see a formidable backline taking shape – Tomas O’Leary and Pat Phibbs both orchestrating at 9, Ian Humphries and Myles Dorrian creating options at 10 and Marland Yarde and Sailosi Tagicakibau showing their vision and pace on the wings. “It was only training and not a real game” I hear you shouting at me and yes I do realise that, however it is certainly an big indication that Irish intend to play a fast paced and running game this season… one that I think will shock a few people and create some victories.
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Having attending a ‘get closer to the squad’ event at another London club recently (the one based very close to Twickenham HQ), there was a stark contrast in the amount of time dedicated to truly getting to know the fans, with London Irish leagues ahead of their neighbours, showing exactly how it should be done. Yesterday every single member of the squad came off the pitch after a tough training session and spent a long time chatting with fans, having genuine, lengthy, conversations and signing anything and everything asked of them. It was truly refreshing to see, the lack of egos and genuine interest in what their season ticket holders had to say was a credit to the club and to the culture that Brian Smith has created.

Rugby wise the squad now travel to Munster this weekend for their third and final pre-season fixture. A tough game in Ireland will certainly set them up for the task that is Sarries at the London Double Header on 9th September. Whilst many have written them off for this game already and indeed relegated this season, I for one am not entertaining that thought and can see them shocking a number of people with a good result against Sarries and a mid-table finish this season.