Kennedy issues rallying call as Irish chase glory
By Damian Dolan
London Irish director of rugby Nick Kennedy has issued a rallying call to the club’s supporters for them to turn out in force and in full voice for the Exiles’Greene King IPA Championship final 2nd leg at the Madejski Stadium on May 24th against Yorkshire Carnegie.
With a place in the Aviva Premiership on the line the stakes couldn’t be higher, with Irish looking to win promotion back to English rugby’s top flight at the first attempt, following last season’s relegation to the Championship.
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Kennedy first takes his side to Headingley for the 1st leg on May 17th, before the return meeting in Reading, with the aggregate score over the two games deciding which club replaces Bristol in the Premiership for the 2017/18 season.
Kennedy is adamant the final will be decided at the Madejski and is calling on the club’s supporters to get behind the Exiles.
“It’s going to be really tense and it’s going to go down to the wire at the Madejski,” said Kennedy. “The crowd can certainly play a big part.
“Both teams are well supported and the crowd will play a part for them up there, so we’re looking for our supporters turn out in full at the Madejski on May 24th. They’ve followed us all over the country this season and hopefully they can add some energy to our performance, and we can give a display that they’ll be proud of.”
Irish finished the regular season 17 points clear of nearest rivals Yorkshire Carnegie and comfortably came out on top in both of their meetings, including a 20-14 win at Headingley in March, but Kennedy says that victory, which was far more convincing the scoreline might suggest, will count for nothing come final time.
“It won’t have any bearing. It was a tough game for them; [Joe] Ford was out and they had to bring in Tom Catterick at fly half who then did his ACL in the game, so we can’t really take anything from it,” he said. “There was only one score in it and we’re going to be playing against their top side in the final, so we’re going to have to be even more on our mettle.
“It was a brutal game and we got a couple of big injuries off the back of it. They’ve got a big pack and it took us a while to recover from the game physically. Both legs of the final are going to be extremely tough.
“Yorkshire are a very good team; they finished just below us in the league table, but we just need to concentrate on playing the best game we possibly can.
“We’ve had a good look at them and we’ve been concentrating on what they’re going to bring as well what we’re going to bring.”
While Yorkshire overcame Ealing Trailfinders to make the final, the Exiles reached the decider with a comprehensive semi-final victory over last year’s runners up, Doncaster Knights. A victory built off the back of a hugely impressive 35-3 win at Castle Park in the 1st leg.
“We were disappointed with a couple of things, but on the whole the boys played really well and they worked extremely hard.
“But while we played alright at Doncaster, we let ourselves down at the Madejski, so we’ve been working hard on our game since then,” said Kennedy. That Irish hit the playoffs running against Doncaster could be attributed in some part to their surprise league defeat away to Jersey at the end of March – a victory the islanders followed up a week later in the British and Irish Cup at the Madejski.
While disappointing, Kennedy admits the losses weren’t without benefit. “We learnt a lot from the [Championship] defeat. Our key performance indicators were the lowest of the entire season, including all of our British and Irish Cup games, so we weren’t happy with our performance, although Jersey did play well against us,” he said.
“You always learn from every game, but you learn a bit more from defeats. At the same time we know we didn’t play to the best of our ability.”
While it was of little relevance against Doncaster, the two-legged Championship play-off format is one that Yorkshire Carnegie will be more familiar with having graced this stage before and containing several previous Championship winners in their side. It’s a format Kennedy is unperturbed about.
“If you’re down on the scoreboard you don’t have to go for the miracle play, throw that off load, or do anything silly and chase the game, because you’ve got the return leg. It’s a game of two halves over two games,” he said. “But we’re still looking to bring a real intensity to the 1st leg at Headingley. It’s going to be tough conditions up there, it’s going to be wet and windy, and it’s going to be difficult under the floodlights.”
While the Championship play-offs have had their detractors, and they’re due to be scrapped from next season, they have provided some thrilling and tense finals, and Irish nerves will be tested. Kennedy, though, is confident that his players will be able to deal with all that the occasion brings. “We’re focused, really excited and looking forward to the challenge ahead,” he added.
• The Play-off Final, 7.45pm Wednesday 24 May, Madejski Stadium London Irish v Yorkshire Carnegie. Tickets from only £10 for adults and £1 for children from www.lidirect.co.uk or 0118 968 1016.