By Damian Dolan
London Irish will be determined to ensure Doncaster Knights don’t spoil the club’s St Patrick’s Party celebrations on Saturday at the Madejski Stadium (3pm), and throw a spanner in the Exiles’ promotion hopes.
Declan Kidney’s side go into the game eight points clear at the top of the Greene King IPA Championship table, with six rounds to go. They’re nearly there, but not quite.
The champagne is very much back on ice after the last round of matches.
“Eight point isn’t much at all. Saturday’s game is massive and it’s great that it’s the club’s St Patrick’s Party,” London Irish centre Brendan Macken told the Irish World.
“Hopefully we’ll have a great crowd as it’s a huge game for us, and one we have to win.”
Ealing Trailfinders still have to go to the Madejski in the final round, and the Exiles will desperately want to have the title and promotion wrapped up before then.
Always a highlight of the club’s calendar, London Irish’s St Patrick’s Party it could be one to remember if the Exiles take care of business against the Knights, and closet rivals Ealing slip up away to Coventry.
The Butts Park Arena is a tricky assignment, as the Exiles can vouch, and confidence in the Ealing camp is likely to be dented after their 24-22 defeat last time out away to Richmond at the Athletic Ground.
It was a game Ealing would have expected to win, and one they had in the bag until the home side pinched it with a late try.
Of course, the opposite is also true.
— London Irish (@LiRFC) March 20, 2019
If the Knights do manage to inflict a first defeat of the season on Irish at the Madejski, then it will firmly open the door for the ambitious West Londoners, provided they can also overcome Coventry.
“It’s important that we come out firing against Doncaster, who will have seen our result against Yorkshire and might think that they can come to the Madejski and get a scalp off us,” added the former Leinster player.
Both sides have had two weeks to stew on those Round 17 loses. Ealing, though, will view this as a second chance. Irish will know that they could have all but sealed their return to the Aviva Premiership on a truly filthy day weather-wise at Headingley.
After a weekend off, while the Six Nations sorted out a few issues, Kidney’s side return to Championship matters keen to expunge the memory of their 26-12 defeat at Yorkshire Carnegie.
📹 | REACTION: Director of rugby Declan Kidney believes this weekend demonstrated how tough the league is, with the five teams at the bottom of the league all winning in Round 17. But, he is determined that the Exiles will soon be back to winning ways.
— London Irish (@LiRFC) March 11, 2019
“The squad has reacted really, really to the Yorkshire game. We knew collectively that it wasn’t good enough. It was the same conditions for both sides,” said Macken.
“They got stuck into us and it was a difficult afternoon, and it made for some serious thinking on the way home.
“We had no game last weekend, but we had two pretty tough training sessions which were very intense.”
Ealing’s two bonus points against Richmond closed the gap to just eight, meaning Irish still have work to do.
In Round 19, the Exiles face a difficult and long trip to Mennaye Field (30 March) where Cornish Pirates will be waiting. The same day, Ealing welcome Nottingham to Trailfinders Sports Club.
The Exiles have already suffered defeat at Mennaye this season, albeit in the Championship Cup.
It’s perfectly poised. The next two weekends of Championship action could be very telling indeed. Hopefully Irish eyes will be smiling.