But I’m certain that we’ll be a far stronger team and club for having gone through this adversity.
We got off to a great start to the season winning the JP Morgan Sevens Trophy. The final was a gutsy performance that saw our boys fight back from a 28 - 5 scoreline at half time and go on to win 33 v 28. The performance was full of courage and belief and a great way to kick off the campaign.
Since then injury has robbed us of Joe Ansbro, James Buckland and Tomas O’Leary for the season. And Alex Corbisiero, Tom Homer, Marland Yarde, George Skivington, Matt Garvey, Ofisa Treviranus, Chris Hala’ufia, Dave Sisi and Jon Fisher have all had limited playing time due to significant injuries.
On top of the injury woes we’ve had some big referee calls go against us in key matches. The Harlequins and London Welsh games were decided by dubious decisions from match officials. I don’t like making excuses because whining won’t help our cause but it would be remiss of me not to mention them.
Despite all of this I’m very positive and upbeat about the future of the club and I’m up for the challenges that await us for the remainder of the season. All the setbacks we’ve faced so far (and there will be more) are tests of our courage, conviction and commitment.
We have made progress in some key areas of our game. For a start the forwards are developing well under Glenn Delaney. He inherited a pack that struggled to scrum and maul with the big boys last season. Our forwards are definitely improving and to date Halani Aulika, Max Lahiff and Mat Garvey have been outstanding.
Our attack is also improving. There is no doubt that the experience and skill of Ian Humphreys and Shane Geraghty are making us a more dangerous attacking threat. Sailosi Tagicakibau has been impressive standing in for Joe Ansbro in the centre and Marland Yarde looks more like an England winger with every performance.
Perhaps our most complete performance of the season to date was the thumping win over Northampton at home. The Saints came into the match unbeaten after six rounds and were coming to the Madejski to bully us. In fact it was London Irish that did the bullying. It’s given us all a glimpse of what is possible when we get everything right.
Over the past few seasons defence has been a major issue at the club. This is not a new problem so that’s why I asked Shaun Edwards to come and help us sort it out. He’s one of the best defence coaches in the world and despite our results he’s an asset for the team and the club. If you have any doubt about that you should pop down to watch his defence training session on Tuesdays.
We could have chosen to play a boring kick chase game in order to sort out our defensive problems but I’ve chosen to stick to our attacking philosophy trusting that we will defend our mistakes. That’s my call and I’m confident we can still play attacking rugby and win.
I have assembled a group of coaches who I think can move this Club forward and I’ll back them until the end of the earth. If you demand loyalty from players you have to demonstrate that with the way you treat your colleagues. Ultimately the buck stops with me and not my coaches.
There is always a lot of speculation about player movements at this time of year; it’s all a part of the professional game. Some of our key players (Tom Homer, Bryn Evans, Leo Halavatau, etc) have already committed their futures to the club. Along with Tomas O’Leary, Ian Humphreys, Sailosi Tagicakibau and Marland Yarde, these guys are the foundations of our new team.
A number of others have chosen to wait until January and play the field as they’re entitled to. Rest assured the club has made all of these players outstanding offers in an effort to retain their services and we’d like to keep them at the club. It’s fair to say that London Irish has developed these guys and they owe the club a lot. The reality is that some players will decide to move on and whilst it’s disappointing, it’s not fatal.
No individual is irreplaceable; in fact some of the departing players will free up funds and opportunities for others. The considerable resources set aside for retaining players if not utilised will be allocated to recruiting new quality players. And there are a lot of players very keen to join our club. In fact, getting in some new blood may help solve some problems.
Building a team is a lot more than collecting talent. It’s more about assembling a group of players that love the game and are willing to sacrifice for their teammates and the club. They need to care about winning and be prepared to fight together and respect each other. They need to be prepared to work hard.
I understand my responsibility to you the supporters for the remainder of the season. We are under pressure on the pitch and it’s my job to design the game plans and squeeze every ounce of effort out of the players for all of our remaining matches. It’ll be a tactical battle and a man management challenge. The players are aware of their responsibilities too. They understand we need their best efforts each and every day at training and in every match.
Thanks for sticking with the team and for your composure, patience and loyalty. I’m proud to be the coach of this wonderful club and I’m grateful for your trust and support. Let’s all embrace the rest of the season’s journey together as one extended team – the London Irish team. I’m very excited by the challenge ahead and believe it will bring out the fighting spirit and best qualities in each of us.
Maitheas os cionn olc!
Show your "Exile-Style" and wear it with pride!