Fergus Mulchrone tells Damian Dolan why London Irish have greater aspirations than just battling for Premiership survival this season
Mention the prospect of London Irish being embroiled in a relegation battle to stay in the Aviva Premiership this season, and you’ll get short shrift from Fergus Mulchrone, as the Exiles prepare to face Harlequins on Saturday in the London Double Header at Twickenham.
The centre, now in his fifth season at the club, won’t entertain such defeatist talk. Although fully aware of the unforgiving beast the Premiership can be, Mulchrone and Irish have loftier ambitions.
The doomsayers may already have them pencilled in for a swift return to the Championship, or at best see them locked in a deadly tussle to avoid the drop with the likes of Worcester Warriors Sale Sharks, Gloucester and Newcastle Falcons, but Mulchrone has no intention of repeating the gut-wrenching experience of 2015/16.
Part of the London Irish side which suffered relegation that season, Mulchrone felt obligated to help the club regain its rightful place in English rugby’s top flight, and he did just that.
“London Irish doesn’t belong in the Championship, it belongs in the Premiership,” said Mulchrone.
“I felt a sense of responsibility and a duty to get the club back to where it was. For me, it was relief more than anything [winning the Championship]. There was joy, but at the same time there was just a lot of relief.
“This year we’re not even thinking about relegation. That’s a bad thing to have creeping into your head.
“Nobody wants to be in a league where you’re just stragglers and just doing enough to stay in the league. We want to show that we belong in the Premiership and produce some week in, week out performances which will get us up the ladder.
“That might not happen straight away, but we want to show that we belong in the Premiership and that we can compete.”
The challenge could not be greater, though. Not even the deep pockets of billionaire owner Stephen Lansdown could prevent Bristol from losing their first ten Premiership games last season – a run which cost Andy Robinson his job.
In the end they managed just three wins and finished 13 points adrift at the bottom, but they are not alone. London Welsh were immediately relegated both times after winning the Championship, while Worcester have yo-yoed.
Newcastle have cemented their place after going up, although still spend more time looking over their shoulder at what’s below them, than peering upwards.
The only side to truly thrive following promotion from the second tier is Exeter Chiefs. All of which just goes to illustrate the size of the task before Irish, as Mulchone knows only too well as he nears 50 Premiership appearances for the Exiles since joining from Rotherham Titans in 2013.