By Alan Callanan
London Irish director of rugby Declan Kidney was in high spirits at the club’s Hazelwood training ground, ahead of the club’s friendly against his former club Munster in Cork on Friday evening.
After an elongated pre-season due to the impending Rugby World Cup, it’s a very welcome chance for Kidney’s charges to put their hard work on the training ground into practice.
The real business doesn’t begin for Irish until 20 October when face Wasps in their opening Premiership fixture.
But with some exciting additions on board, hopes are high and the former Ireland Grand Slam winning coach is in upbeat mood.
That excitement has been enhanced by the progress of work on what will be the club’s new home ground – the Brentford Community Stadium in Kew – in preparation for the Exiles’ London ‘homecoming’ for the start of the 2020/21 season.
London Irish will want to be a Premiership club when they move in.
With recent confirmation that there will be no relegation from the Premiership at the end of the current season, if there’s pressure on Kidney to make sure that’s the case, he isn’t showing it.
“I think Brentford is a fantastic carrot for us to have,” Kidney told the Irish World.
“London Irish will be in Brentford next year and in the ideal world we will be there as a Premiership club, as against a Championship one.
“I don’t see it so much as pressure, but as a carrot. It’s like an extra prize to work for.”
He added: “There is trophies to be won by everybody at the end of the year. We just have an extra trophy to play for in terms of being a Premiership side in Brentford for season 2020/21.”
This season will be London Irish’s last at the Madejski Stadium in Reading, bringing to an end the club’s 20-year tenure.
The Corkman was full of praise for both London Irish owner Mick Crossan and the club’s supporters at the Mad Stad, as it’s commonly referred to, for their continued backing of him and what he wants to deliver for the club.
“He’s (Mick Crossan) been brilliant; he’s helped us all along the way when we’ve gone asking for things,” said Kidney.
“The Madejski has also been brilliant to us. It’s a fantastic ground.
“It is that little bit out, but the supporters in and around the area have been fantastic to us.
“We’re hoping they will travel into Brentford the same way people from London have gone out to Reading over the last 20 years.”
As has been much publicised throughout the year, there has been a significant influx of new faces talent drafted into the club for the campaign ahead.
High profile signings of top southern hemisphere talent including 2015 All Black World Cup winner Waisake Naholo and Australian scrum-half general Nick Phipps will come in, alongside players more familiar to European rugby fans such as Scotland front-rower Allan Dell and the controversial arrival of Paddy Jackson from the French Top 14.
The club came in for criticism from some quarters for signing the former Ireland and Ulster fly half, who was cleared of rape alongside teammate Stuart Olding in March 2018.
“We anticipated there was going to be some news around it,” said Kidney.
“We respect the fact that everybody is going to have their opinion on it, but we would be all about looking forward. We have spoken about it, it would be foolish not to.
“He’s a good player, he is a good addition to the club and we are looking forward to seeing him play.”
Another marquee Ireland international is also on his way over the Irish Sea, as Leinster stalwart Sean O’Brien will become a London Irish player on 1 December.
Despite currently recovering from a complicated knee injury, Kidney is confident the flanker will arrive in good condition.
“He is moving along well; he is working on the bike,” he said.
“He is pain free he said for the first time in two-and-a-half years. I know there’s no such thing as a 100 per cent fit rugby player.
“They all have different bangs and knocks and things like that, but he is in great form and he is working away towards it.”
He added: “It is obviously a significant injury, but he was managing to play for Ireland and for Leinster when we signed him and if anybody can come back from it he will be the one.”
As always with a haul of new signings, there must be departures.
A total of 17 players were let go by the club after a successful promotion campaign last season, including Topsy Ojo (retirement), Fergus Mulchrone, Greig Tonks and last season’s captain Josh McNally.
But the club’s big name additions suggest a real sign of intent by London Irish to make a statement at the top level.
Kidney is positive about the team he’s assembled and its prospects of still being a Premiership club come June 2020, and the end the season.
“The passages of play are just that much longer in the Premiership than they are in the Championship,” he Kidney.
“There might be 40 passages of play in a Championship match, there might be 25 in the Premiership, but each one of those phases lasts that bit longer and you have to prepare differently for that.”
Kidney added: “How will Adam Coleman go in the Premiership? How will Waisake go in the Premiership? Every competition makes its own demands of players.
“Each one has its own dynamics and its own way about it.”
London Irish players selected for the World Cup:
Motu Matu’u (Samoa)
TJ Ioane (Samoa)
Bryce Campbell (USA)
Alivereti Veitokani (Fiji)
Allan Dell (Scotland)
Steve Mafi (Tonga)
Adam Coleman (Australia)
Sekope Kepu (Australia)