London Irish must learn the lessons of their humbling at the hands of reigning Premiership champions Exeter Chiefs, if they are to add to Sale Sharks’ early season woes at the AJ Bell Stadium on Friday night.
Irish’s comprehensive 37-7 loss at Sandy Park was an easily predicted reality-check for the Exiles, after the jubilation of their opening weekend win over Harlequins, as they reaped the backlash of the Chiefs’ defeat at Gloucester.
Nick Kennedy’s side were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time last Saturday. London Irish’s director of rugby told BBC Radio Berkshire: “I thought we got taught a lesson by a very, very good team and Exeter showed today why they’re the best team in the league.
“They played some outstanding rugby at times and we were on the back foot for the majority of the game. There’s lots of lessons for us to learn from that.”
But the Exiles have the perfect opportunity to bounce back when they travel to a Sale side beaten at home last weekend, 13-12, by Newcastle Falcons.
That defeat came on the back of a 50-35 loss to Wasps. Sharks director of rugby Steve Diamond branded his team as “pathetic” after that defeat to the Falcons, so for the second time in less than a week the Exiles travel to a side eager to bounce back on home turf.
The Sharks are a formidable outfit at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Sale, who signed former Exile James O’Connor from Toulon in the summer, finished tenth last season with all but one of their seven wins coming at home.
But it’s a game Irish have to be targeting for a win, against a team more likely to be involved in matters at the bottom of the table, than the top.
Irish were no match for Exeter who led 20-0 at half-time thanks to tries from Henry Slade, a penalty try and Don Armand, with Gareth Steenson getting a penalty.
The Exeter fly-half added another penalty after the break, before Alex Lewington claimed Irish’s only try. Olly Woodburn and Armand scored late tries to secure a bonus point for the champions.
“We had a little bit of ball, but we ended up making mistakes with it, but that’s not to say we lost the game because of those mistakes. We lost because Exeter were a much better team than us,” added Kennedy.
“We knew before the game we had a lot of work to do and it’s just confirmation so we’ll roll up our sleeves and keep working hard.”
Irish have made four changes for Friday night’s trip to Sale (kick-off 8pm) to “freshen things up”.
Ben Franks captains the side, the double World Cup-winning All Black replacing Petrus Du Plessis at tighthead. Franks packs down alongside hooker Dave Porecki who comes in for David Paice, while in the backline Fijian international Aseli Tikoirotuma and Brendan McKibbin start at outside centre and scrum-half respectively.
The Exiles travel to Greater Manchester with five points to their name, having defeated Harlequins in the season opener at Twickenham.
Looking for his side to improve on last week’s performance at Exeter Chiefs, Kennedy said: “We’ve addressed a few things from the Exeter game and as a team we’re looking forward to the challenge that awaits us at Sale.
“Sale are a physical side and we will need to match them in that department from the very first whistle.
“I’ve made some changes to the team to freshen things up after the first two rounds of the season and I’m looking forward to seeing how Ben Franks, Dave Porecki, Aseli Tikoirotuma and Brendan McKibbin all do from the start.”
London Irish: 15 Tommy Bell, 14 Alex Lewington, 13 Aseli Tikoirotuma, 12 Luke McLean, 11 Topsy Ojo, 10 James Marshall, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 1 Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi, 2 Dave Porecki, 3 Ben Franks (c), 4 Franco van der Merwe, 5 Sebastian De Chaves, 6 Mike Coman, 7 Blair Cowan, 8 Ofisa Treviranus.
Replacements: 16 David Paice, 17 Harry Elrington, 18 Petrus Du Plessis, 19 Josh McNally, 20 Conor Gilsenan, 21 Scott Steele, 22 Greig Tonks 23 Napolioni Nalaga.