By Damian Dolan
Declan Danaher has called upon London Irish’s players to revive the underdog spirit synonymous with the club’s past, if they are to be a force in this season’s Aviva Premiership.
Speaking to the Irish World on the cusp of the club’s clash with Harlequins in the London Double Header at Twickenham, the London Irish defence coach believes the Exiles must summon the spirit which epitomised the club when he joined in 1999.
It was that which propelled the Exiles to Powergen Cup success in 2002, and proved a springboard to reaching the Heineken Cup semi-finals in 2007/08 and the Premiership final in 2008/09.
“You knew that the guy beside you had your back,” said Danaher. “We always felt teams didn’t respect us; perhaps we didn’t have the superstars of other clubs, but what we did have was a group of players who backed each other 100 percent.
“We would always put in a performance we were proud of and if we were going to go down then we were going down swinging. It wasn’t going to be for a lack of effort.”
As a player, he made his debut under Dick Best in a London Irish side boasting the likes of Conor O’Shea, Kieron Dawson and Justin Bishop, and went on to make 275 appearances in all competitions scoring 23 tries, before retiring in 2014.
A good bunch of boys
“We were seen as a great club to join more for the Craic, and a good bunch of boys. But that grew from my first year onwards,” he added.
“That relentlessness is something we’ve tried to get across to the players. You play hard and fair.
“All we ask of the players is that they go out on a Saturday afternoon and work incredibly hard.” After relegation from the Premiership in 2015/16 the Exiles regrouped last season in the Championship and lost just one league game on their way to securing an immediate return to English rugby’s top flight, with victory over Yorkshire Carnegie in the two-legged final.
“We’re the underdogs; no one expects anything from us, which is brilliant,” said Danaher, who believes that last season’s shared experience in the Championship has helped forge a sense of togetherness amongst the players and coaches.