Conor Gilsenan has warned against writing off London Irish as certainties for relegation, and has urged the club’s supporters to turn out in force at the Madejski Stadium on Sunday (KO 1pm) for the club’s crucial Aviva Premiership clash with Worcester Warriors.
Last Saturday’s loss at Northampton Saints, coupled with Worcester’s win over Gloucester, has left the Exiles 16 points adrift of the Warriors with just seven rounds of action to go.
It will now require an escape act of monumental proportions if Irish are to avoid the drop from this position, but with 35 points still to play for Mullingar-native Gilsenan is adamant that the Exiles can still turn it around.
“Everyone looking in seems to think our fate is sealed, but we know within our group that it’s not,” Gilsenan told the Irish World. “We can still turn it around if we get it right, if we perform for 80 minutes on Sunday. But it needs to start now.
“We need everyone with any ties to London Irish to get down there on Sunday and get behind us, because it does help massively. If we can create a hostile environment and a place that’s not so inviting for Worcester that would be amazing.
“At half-time at Saints we were thinking that if we could win here and maybe close the gap Worcester would start looking over their shoulder and maybe get a bit nervous about us picking up some momentum.
“That same shift in momentum can happen after this weekend.”
#BringYourBattleCry on Sunday and join the team in the fight against the Warriors 💪☘
— London Irish (@LiRFC) February 20, 2018
The Exiles were 14-3 up at Saints, only to leak three tries in a devastating eight-minute spell at the start of the second half, and end up on the wrong end of a 25-17 scoreline. For Gilsenan it was another hugely frustrating loss – the Exiles’ fourteenth consecutive defeat of the Premiership season.
“Incredibly frustrating; we switched off for ten minutes at the start of the second half and we got punished. That the issue at the start of the season as well,” said Gilsenan, who joined Irish in 2014 from Leinser and was capped by Ireland at U18, U19 and U20.
“Saturday was very disappointing. It was a game we should have won. We played better than Northampton, in my opinion, for 70 minutes.
“That was one of the hardest ones [defeats] to take, because we had Paicey [David Paice] breaking the club record and it would have been really nice to had given him something to celebrate.
“We always seem to deliver when one of the boys is hitting a milestone. Everyone finds that extra bit when we’re fighting for each other. We delivered over in Stade Francais when Topsy [Ojo] was breaking the club record. But it wasn’t to be.”
For Gilsenan, the most frustrating aspect of the club’s Premiership campaign has been its inability to reproduce its sparkling display against Harlequins at Twickenham on the opening weekend of the season. Since then they’ve only given ‘glimpses’ of what they’re capable of, says Gilsenan.
“We are a good rugby team. Against Leicester Tigers we fronted up massively up front and our defensive display was huge, and in other games we’ve shown glimpses in attack, but we haven’t been able to put it all together like we did against Quins,” he said.
“That’s the challenge for us, being consistently honest for 80 minutes with no lapses in concentration. That’s how you win games at this level. If you switch off you get punished – everyone’s just too good.
“Hopefully this weekend we can put together a performance which shows just how good we are.
“We’re competitive, but we’re not winning enough. Professional sport is pretty simple, it’s win or lose. Even though a lot of people will give us credit for fighting valiantly in games, if things don’t pick up in the next seven matches it’s very black and white.
“Credit to Worcester, to go away to Sandy Park and pick up a win against the champions (Exeter Chiefs] was a massive feat, and their win over Gloucester was pretty impressive as well. So we know we’re up against a quality side this weekend.
“Realistically we’re not scoring enough tries. Worcester seem to be scoring quite a lot of tries. We’re relying maybe on defensive pressure to create tries or feeding off other teams’ ill-discipline to get us over the line.”