By Damian Dolan
London Irish will be going out ‘all guns blazing’ when Sale Sharks visit the Madejski Stadium on Saturday (KO 3pm), says Exiles’ centre Fergus Mulchrone.
Nine points adrift of Worcester Warriors at the foot of the Aviva Premiership table with nine rounds to go, Irish’s relegation escape act needs to start now, with the visit of Sale signalling the start of a crucial four-week block for the club.
Following the Sharks, the Exiles travel to Northampton Saints, before entertaining rivals Worcester in what is sure to be a tense clash, and then round things off with a visit to Wasps.
One man eager to get back into the thick of the action is Mulchone. The centre ruptured ankle ligaments in the lead up to Irish’s defeat at Worcester on 22 December, but is back in contention to feature against Sale, and is ‘itching’ to play.
“We’ve got to be all guns blazing on Saturday when Sale come to town,” Mulchone told the Irish World.
“It’s a block of four huge games for us. We know we’ve got some work to do, but the gap will only close with us putting in performances and getting Ws.
“It [the injury] wasn’t the greatest of timings. I was gutted; I really wanted to get stuck in and have a go at Worcester.”
The club’s player of the month for November, the injury was an untimely blow for Mulchrone, but in his absence the Exiles have utilised the European Challenge Cup and the Anglo-Welsh Cup to good affect by picking up four confidence boosting wins on the bounce.
Home and away victories over Russian side Krasny Yar, were followed by a comprehensive ten try rout of Wasps at the Madejski and a further six tries in last weekend’s win at Cardiff Blues.
“We’ve found a little bit of form. We feel we’re starting to play the kind of rugby we want to play and that involves scoring tries,” added Mulchrone, who joined the Exiles from Rotherham Titans in 2013.
“We want to play good rugby and we want to play rugby that people like to watch.
“Winning’s a habit; it’s something you obviously set out to do at the start of the season, but if things don’t go your way and you keep losing it can be very hard to turn things around and find those ‘Ws’ now, when we need them more than ever. Those four wins could be crucial for us.”
The visit of the relegation rivals Worcester to the Madejski on 25 February will, of course, be huge, but Mulchrone has warned against the Exiles becoming over-fixated with the Warriors game.
Irish must focus on the “bigger picture” and need to “turn up” every week between now until the end of the season.
“We have to target Sale, we have to target Northampton, then we can hit Worcester. Then we have to go for Wasps and Gloucester,” he said. “You can’t just target certain games in the Premiership – it doesn’t work.
“You have to give it everything every week. In some of our performances we’ve switched off for a couple of minutes and we’ve leaked a try or two.”
Worcester stole a march on the Exiles during the November autumn internationals, beating Northampton Saints and Leicester Tigers, and picking up points against Harlequins and Sale, all of whom had been weakened by international call-ups. Irish ‘need’ do likewise during the Six Nations.
In contrast, Irish have frustratingly been ‘in games’ with 10-15 minutes remaining, but being unable to turn them into wins.
Their Premiership defeats to Leicester and Newcastle either side of New Year are testament to that, as were their losses to Wasps and Bath in November. Four games which produced four losing bonus points, when it could so easily have been more.
“It was there for the taking [against Bath and Wasps]. We do have lapses in concentration, but concentration comes from finding form for 80 minutes, and it’s something that we have to do. If we don’t we’ll find ourselves at the bottom of the pile,” said Mulchrone, who began his rugby career at Saint Ambrose College in Manchester before joining the academy at Sale Sharks.
“These are things we’re working on and we’re hoping we can get right at the back end of the season.”
Mulchone is confident, though, that the Exiles can buck that trend and secure the club’s Premiership survival, and Irish’s loyal following will have their part to play in the run in, especially at the Madstad.
“Support plays a huge role for us at the MadStad. When you hear the drums and The Fields of Athenry it gives us some serious momentum. The fans are very passionate. Home support is crucial for us,” he said.