By Damian Dolan
London Irish will need little motivating for Friday evening’s clash with Sale Sharks, as Declan Kidney’s side look to get back to winning ways.
The Exiles were well beaten, 41-7, when the Sharks visited the Madejski Stadium in September – a scoreline that should negate the need for Irish’s director of rugby to deliver any chest-thumping pre-match speech.
“I don’t think any real message will have to go out for that,” said Kidney.
It’s going to be a tough test, though, against an in-form Sale side who are currently second in the Premiership table, five points behind Exeter Chiefs.
Sale made it four wins in their last five matches in all competitions with victory at Gloucester last Friday night, so will also have the luxury of two extra days to prepare.
“We’ll have our hands full against the form side in the Premiership. They’ve a cup final the following week and they’re going really well,” added Kidney.
For Irish, it’s a six-day turnaround following last Sunday’s 36-26 loss to Wasps in Reading, where they missed the chance to move up to fourth in the table, and into the play-off spots.
It ended Kidney’s side’s run of three consecutive Premiership wins with Irish coming off second best at the breakdown.
Kidney admitted that Wasps, who recently parted company with director of rugby Dai Young, “did a number” on Irish.
“Wasps were full value for their win – they gave us a lesson at the breakdown,” he said.
— London Irish (@LiRFC) March 4, 2020
“I’d have a lot of respect for Wasps for the way they approached the game. They showed us what we have to work on and improve on. We weren’t quite on the money as we have in other weeks.”
Kidney, though, said all the issues were “technical” and “fixable”, and he had no complaints over the penalty count, which favoured the visitors by 12 to 7.
“If think the ones at the breakdown were correct. It isn’t a referee’s duty to make sure it’s an even penalty count – it’s just to be consistent throughout the game,” he said.
“They just did a good job at the breakdown; they either turned us over or got a penalty.
“That’s [the breakdown] going to be a massive part of our week.”
Irish led 14-3 through tries from Ben Meehan and Ben Loader, but the visitors closed the gap with a converted try from Biyi Alo on the stroke of half-time.
Wasps took the lead through prop Ben Harris, only for Irish’s Matt Rogerson to crash over soon after.
Marcus Watson, Dan Robson and Jacob Umaga all then crossed for Wasps to take the game away from the home side, but Motu Matu’u earned Irish a try bonus-point from the last play of the game.
It leaves Irish eighth in the table, three points off the play-offs with ten rounds of action to go, and Kidney certainly isn’t hitting the panic button.
🗓 | The next time we’ll be back at the Mad Stad will be for the St Patrick’s Party, and the last one ever to be held in its place of origin!
— London Irish (@LiRFC) March 2, 2020
“We’d had a couple of wins and people were probably getting carried away, but we weren’t ourselves,” he said.
“You’re always going to hit these bumps along the way as we look to improve.”
Defeat to Wasps, however, was Irish’s sixth of the season at the Madejski. It’s a statistic Kidney attributes to the quality playing surface and its geographical location, which favours travelling away supporters.
“It’s a great track and teams enjoy playing here,” he said.
“We have to try and dissipate that and give our own supporters something to get behind and make it feel more like a home match,” said Kidney.
“We’ve five more games here and it’s really important that we give our support base something to be proud of.”
One positive for Irish was the sight of Ireland international Sean O’Brien involved in the pre-game warm-up, with Kidney saying that he continues to “make good progress” from the hip injury that ruled him out of the World Cup.