By Damian Dolan
Despite the threat of relegation looming large, London Irish’s new technical consultant Declan Kidney is adamant that the Exiles remains a Premiership club in every regard.
The former Grand Slam winning Ireland head coach oversaw his first game in charge on Saturday, as London Irish missed a golden opportunity to close the gap on Worcester.
Kidney saw his side squander a 17-point lead to go down 33-29 to Gloucester at the Madejski Stadium, but still closed the gap on the Warriors to ten points with four games to go thanks to picking up two bonus points, and Worcester going down to a heavy loss at Sale.
Kidney refused to accept that the Exiles should settle for ‘anything less’ than finishing off such games.
“I’ve seen the structure behind the club. I believe it’s strong enough to be there [the Premiership],” said Kidney. “I wouldn’t see any reason why not.
“I saw loads of things to encourage me, but we still lost. There were plenty of good things there, but at the end of the day we came out second.
“I wouldn’t be inclined to let them settle for that, because I think we’re better than that.
“Winning can be a habit and losing can be a habit. We need to learn how to finish off these games.”
Irish travel to Harlequins on 7 April with Worcester at home to in-form Newcastle Falcons on the same day. If both results go against the Exiles, the club’s fate, and an immediate return to the Championship, could be all but sealed.
Kidney, whose arrival signalled the departure from the club of its former director of rugby Nick Kennedy, refused to mention the word relegation.
“I haven’t really been looking at it like that. We have another massive game against Harlequins,” said Kidney.
“We need to get ourselves right for that one game. If we try and think of anything else we’ll only bury ourselves.”
It looked as if the club’s St Patrick’s Party match would inspire the Exiles when they burst into a 17-point lead thanks to tries from Josh McNally, on his return from surgery to correct a hole in the heart, and Piet van Zyl.
But Gloucester recovered to lead 19-17 at half-time thanks to three tries in a devastating eight-minute spell.
The Cherry and Whites added a further two converted scores after the break, but Irish rallied through tries from Theo Brophy-Clews and Joe Cokanasiga to ensure they took two bonus points.
“We need to learn how to manage our game. And that’s not any one person, that’s everybody in the way we went about that second quarter,” he said.
“The third quarter, there were issues I know we can address. I’m encouraged because I believe they’re under our control.
“Gloucester kicked it wisely and that was a little bit of a difference – they managed their way through it quite well. I would give them a lot of credit for that.
“You don’t want to be kicking for the sake of it, you don’t want to be running for the sake of it. It’s knowing when to do each one. It’s learning that balance and that takes a while.
“We have some senior members of the team who can help things for us, but they need to be managed during the match. We’ve some younger fellas the exact same, full of youthful enthusiasm, and we just need to get that managing aspect in the second quarter.
“At this stage of the season it’s an ask, but isn’t that the fun of the challenge?”