Almost A Perfect Start

Posted on: 19 September 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Nick looks back on London Irish's start to the new Guinness Premiership season.

The new season is well underway and after two games in the Guinness Premiership have been played it’s a little frustrating to say that we’ve only got five points.

We opened our campaign against Wasps at Twickenham, possibly one of the most difficult opponents considering they are reigning champions but we managed to pull off an excellent display to beat them.

It’s fair to say we were pretty nervous going into the game. The week before we’d been hammered by Munster in Ireland 35-14 in our final pre-season game, and our defensive play didn’t really fill us with much confidence.

But we worked all week in training on our defensive patterns and our hard work paid off at Twickenham. We tried not to make a big deal out of playing Wasps and we focused 100 per cent on our own game and how we were going to deal with them.

Richard Thorpe and Steffon Armitage were excellent round the flanks for us and I felt outplayed James Haskell, Joe Worsley and Tom Rees which was key for us. It’s always great to get the season off and running with a win and even more so when it’s against the champions at Twickenham.

With the win came my own personal frustration when I was forced to sit out the week’s training with illness and with it I missed our trip to Leicester.

I think before we went into the season people would have looked at the fixture list and seen us with fixtures against Wasps and Leicester and written off our start to the season.

If truth be told we’re quite upset we’re not now sitting here with eight points from two games with two wins. We came within a whisker of snatching a draw at Welford Road and probably should have won the game on reflection.

We scored late on and Peter Hewat unfortunately missed the conversion which was a shame because he’s usually so clinical with his kicking. Leicester will breathe a sigh of relief and it’s up to us now to turn those close games into W’s for Irish.

The performance from our boys was even more rewarding considering the amount of players we’ve had missing through injury, especially in my position at lock. Both myself and our captain Bob Casey were unable to play but Gary Johnson and Nick Rouse excelled themselves in the second row.

Once again it proves that we just can’t rest on our laurels and there are always players good enough to take your position. I think that’s why Bob’s been playing so consistently well for Irish and he’s an example we all try to follow.

At Irish we don’t have a squad of about 50 like some clubs. Instead we’ve a close knit squad without too much strength in depth but we’ve got players outside the matchday fifteen who can come in and make a difference.

This weekend we’re playing Bath at the Madjeski. It’s our first game at home this season and it promises to be a good one if the weather stays fine.

Bath are a very attractive team with a deadly back three in Nick Abendanon, Matt Banahan and Joe Maddock. They play an attractive brand of rugby and with the new ELV’s look to take quick line-outs and really get their flair players running.

We’ll be careful not to kick possession away to them to easily as they have the potential to hurt us. It’s not just in the backs that they’ve got ability. Lee Mears and Matt Stevens are excellent front row players and behind them they’ve got Justin Harrison, Danny Grewcock and Michael Lipman who are all quality.

But in saying that we can’t be watching them for the entire game and the focus should be on us as the home team to dictate the match. We also have to bear in mind that we have quality in our side too and our back three are a match for any in this league and in Europe.

Topsy Ojo, Sailosi Tagicakibau and Peter Hewat can tear anyone apart and it could end up to be a battle of the back three. At the moment I’m pencilled in to play but I may have to undergo a fitness test before the match just to make sure I’m given the OK by the club physios.

Away from rugby my friend Dan O’Sullivan has bought a pub in Marlow called the Queens Head, so if you’re in the area, why not drop in for a quick pint. I’ve been helping him renovate it and doing a few odd jobs for him to help out when I’m not training. It’s nice to have hobbies away from the game and helping him put all his ideas to work has been a pleasure.

By Nick Kennedy

Nick Kennedy plays second row for London Irish and has been named in Martin Johnson’s elite England squad for the coming autumn internationals.

London Irish play host to Bath on Saturday at the Madjeski Stadium in Reading.

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