If the scale of the task before London Irish wasn’t already abundantly clear then it most certainly is now, as the Exiles were blown away by Sale Sharks in Round 3 of the Aviva Premiership.
London Irish had travelled north with high hopes, only to suffer a 36-7 loss at the AJ Bell Stadium – a scoreline which rather worryingly took their tally of points conceded to 102 from their opening three fixtures.
It’s hard to win games of rugby when you’re conceding an average of 34 points a game, and it doesn’t get any easier with Irish at home to Northampton Saints on Sunday, before facing Newcastle Falcons (away) and Leicester Tigers (home).
But it isn’t just the volume of points that will concern director of ruby Nick Kennedy and defence coach Declan Danaher, it’s the number they are conceding early on in games.
Irish were 20-0 down at Exeter after 33 minutes, while it was even worse at Sale with the home side 24- 0 up after just 26 minutes. You’re not going to win matches from those positions.
“A few things went wrong for us,” said Kennedy after Friday night’s defeat at Sale.“Our defence wasn’t good enough in the first half, we slipped off a lot of tackles and missed a lot of tackles.
“Sale did well. They’ve got good attacking structures, held the ball for long periods and really stretched us so we didn’t actually get into their half to attack for half an hour.
“It was a slow start from us but also a very good start from Sale and they deserved their win. “Sale were disappointed from last week and they obviously came out firing.
“We were slow to start for the second week running, so it’s something we will have to address.”
Irish need to stem that flow – they certainly can’t afford to start slowly. They need to find a way to stay in contention going into the last 15-20 minutes, to give themselves a chance of getting something out of games.
While the Exiles’ stunning opening weekend win over Harlequins at Twickenham was very welcome, it may have allowed some to get carried away that Irish’s target this season was ever going to be anything other than avoiding finishing in twelfth place.
Eleventh is the position they now occupy thanks to Worcester Warriors having lost all three of their opening fixtures.
Quins last weekend ended Wasps’ run of 20 Premiership home wins in a row, so did the Exiles just catch Harlequins cold at HQ? Maybe so, but it was still a great win and put five very, very important points in the bag.
Irish fans had grown accustomed to victory in the Championship, but if you’re not ‘at it’ in the Premiership for a 5-10 minute spell, sides will punish you very severely on the scoreboard. It’s a harsh lesson the Exiles are learning, and they must learn it quickly.
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London Irish must learn the lessons of their humbling at the hands of Exeter Chiefs, if they are to add to Sale Sharks’ early season woes on Friday night.