By Damian Dolan
London Irish are refusing to contemplate reaching the Premiership play-offs for the first time since the club made it to the final in 2008-09, says assistant coach Declan Danaher.
The Exiles have hit a rich vein of form in recent weeks, winning their last three games to surge up to sixth in the table – just three points off the play-off places.
Declan Kidney’s side defeated Gloucester 24-20 at the Madejski Stadium last Saturday, with winger Ollie Hassell-Collins scoring all four of Irish’s tries.
But Danaher, who was part of the side which lost to Leicester in the 2009 final, insists they’re not looking any further than this current block of Premiership fixtures.
Wasps visit the Madejski on Sunday, before the Exiles face a five-day turnaround to play Sale Sharks on 6 March at the AJ Bell Stadium.
“We’re looking at one game at a time and we’ll see what happens,” said Danaher. “We play Wasps and then Sale in this window, and that’s our focus.”
A point echoed by 21-year-old Hassell-Collins, but he also added that it was “nice to see us up there”.
A few weeks ago, Kidney’s side looked like they’d be facing another struggle to remain in the top-flight, but confirmation of Saracens’ relegation to the Championship changed all that.
Danaher is adamant, though, that the timing is purely coincidental.
“It (Saracens’ relegation) hasn’t been spoken about. We’re just talking about ourselves,” said Danaher.
Victory over Gloucester came on the back of wins at Harlequins and Northampton Saints, with Danaher revealing that Kidney “challenged” the players to reproduce their recent impressive away form at the Madejski, against Gloucester.
“We got a reaction…..it was a good performance,” said Danaher, who credited a “massive defensive effort” as the foundations for the win.
Irish headed to Spain for a week-long training camp before the Saints game, with Danaher revealing that Kidney and head coach Les Kiss put the focus on the players’ effort.
“That was the biggest thing Les and Declan did – we can’t do anything unless you’re working hard, they said.
4️⃣ try clips to chose from 🤔
Not a bad day at the office for @OHassellcollins 🙌
— London Irish (@LiRFC) February 23, 2020
“If you’re not working hard on or off the ball, you don’t give yourself an opportunity to get into those positions to score tries or make double hits.”
Danaher said Hassell-Collins’ performance had been “coming for a while”.
“He deserves it, he’s worked incredibly hard. He’s a credit to the club and his family. Today was just rewards,” he said.
Reading-born, Hassell-Collins came through the ranks at Newbury RFC. He made his senior debut for Irish against Cornish Pirates in the Championship in November 2018.
His four tries against Gloucester took the England U20s player’s tally for the season to seven from eight Premiership games.
That figure includes a wonderful score against Exeter Chiefs at the Madejski Stadium on 5 January on his Premiership debut.
— London Irish (@LiRFC) February 22, 2020
He scored twice in either half against Gloucester, including a 60-metre interception.
“I’m over the moon. A few of them were gifts and I’ve got to give credit to the boys – the work was on the inside and it was my job to just finish them,” said Hassell-Collins.
London Irish have five more home games in Reading before the club returns to London and moves into the Brentford Community Stadium for the start of next season. It will bring the curtain down on the Exiles’ two decades at the Madejski.
Danaher says they want to do the “last 20 years proud” before they leave.
“I was lucky enough to play here and we’ve had some fantastic years here,” he said.