Our European Adventure Starts Again

Posted on: 10 October 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Nick brings us up to speed on his preparations for London Irish's opening European fixture.

It’s been a busy couple of weeks at London Irish with plenty of rugby being played and a few stand-out stories in the newspapers I’d like to bring you up to speed on.

On the pitch we’ve picked up two excellent victories in the Guinness Premiership, the first away at Harlequins and the second at home to Sale Sharks, while we lost our EDF Cup match against Worcester last weekend.

This weekend we’re hosting Italian side Rovigo at the Madjeski Stadium in the Challenge Cup as European club rugby gets back underway, so all in all it’s been a pretty hectic time for all the Premiership clubs.

Our victory at Quins left us feeling very pleased with the end result but at half-time it wasn’t that simple. We were trailing by 17 points at The Stoop and we’d not played anywhere near good enough. Quins on the other hand were firing on all cylinders and we found ourselves 20-3 down just a minute before the interval.

At the break it was 20-8 and everyone in the changing room knew we were capable of better. There was a feeling amongst us that we could still show what we were about but we needed to get our hands on the ball a lot more and our defence had been very poor.

We came out blazing in the second half and pretty much blew them away. All the guys who came off the bench made a great impact and it was a great turnaround from our point of view. We ended up winning 28-27 and it was a very enjoyable game to play in, needless to say there were big happy smiles on our faces at the final whistle.

The next few days were pretty quiet on the training front as we prepared to face Sale on a Wednesday night at the Madjeski. Sale hadn’t conceded a try in their four previous matches coming into the game so we knew what we were expecting.

We all felt fairly fresh, raring to go and looking forward to the evening match. We don’t often play at the Madjeski at night so that was a nice change of scene for us.

Normally night games are wet and horrible in the Premiership but it was very dry and quite a lovely evening to play rugby.

We carried on from where we had finished at Quins and played some superb rugby. It was a rare occasion, when all 15 players played really well, we clicked and our defence was as good as it’s ever been. We scored four tries, everything went our way and we won the match 28-6 – a superb result against one of the Premiership favourites who had near enough a full team out to play.

We got really stuck into them but the most pleasing thing was to get a bonus point for scoring four tries against a defence that was talked about as one of the best in the league.

Last week we met Worcester in the EDF Cup at Sixways and unfortunately went down 22-5 leaving our chances of qualifying to the knockout phase severely dented.

We went into the Worcester game with a very good side. We did make changes like most of the clubs in the competition but the guys who came in were good enough to win the match for us. On the day, things didn’t really go our way or to plan and Worcester played very well to deserve their win.

After losing it’s going to be very difficult to get out of our EDF group now. We’ve got Harlequins and the Ospreys to play and it all depends on the other results.

If we can’t qualify it does give us a great chance to blood some youngsters and give the squad players a game or two which can only be good for the club. 

As far as the competition goes, many people have claimed that it’s lost its sparkle since changing format. I have to admit I like the way the new competition brings Welsh clubs into the mix. It’s a nice change for us to do battle with the regions rather than playing against all the same-old Premiership clubs.

However, I used to like the old competition when it was the Powergen Cup.  All the rugby clubs in the country were involved and as you may remember the Premiership clubs arrived at the last 16 stage. It could be compared to the FA Cup in football and it allowed First and Second division sides the chance to go head-to-head against the top teams. It was a do-or-die format, you lose and you're out and I really enjoyed that side of things but there are aspects of the new tournament we do enjoy and we need to embrace.

Since the Worcester match we’ve all been pretty fired up after a tough week’s training and feeling pretty good about ourselves. We’re playing Rovigo and it’s the first game in years that we’ve not seen the opposition and there’s been absolutely no analysis done on them as we’ve had no video footage.

It’s not something we’re too worried about. It allows us to concentrate on our game and what we’re doing. It’s a big competition for us; we want to beat this team, beat them well and get a good start under our belts.

From what we’ve heard about them, they’re a very good scrimmaging side and they’ve got a couple of strong-running centres that carry the ball well. They're 15 guys playing in an awesome stadium with nothing to lose so anything can happen if we turn up without our heads switched on. We need to be fully focused and do a professional job, treating it like any other Premiership match.

We want to win some silverware this season and the Challenge Cup is ideal in that it gives the winner a route into the Heineken Cup. We’ve not got the easiest group, it would have been nice to have had a trip away to Spain but we’re under no illusions about what we can and can’t do. We believe we’re good enough to go and win the competition and history suggests we can.

Off the pitch, something that’s made the rugby headlines this week is the incident that took place at Wasps’ training ground between Danny Cipriani and Josh Lewsey. They had a bit of a disagreement in training which ended in a bit of scrap, something which Wasps have been keen to play down.

I can only speak from experience at Irish and confirm that from time to time it will happen every now and again but it’s not an occurrence that happens every week whatsoever. Rugby’s a very physical sport and once a month you’ll have a very heavy contact session and people can get angry with each other and the odd punch can occur. But it’s not something that would happen every week as suggested.

As for the two Wasps lads, I believe they had a disagreement in a defensive drill which spilled over when they aired their differences, with Josh actually ending the argument with a few slaps. But from speaking to a couple of Wasps boys this week they said it’s all over now and the two of them are the best of friends again.

Usually when you get back in the changing room after incidents like these you’re best friends again. Once you’ve calmed down and relaxed, the dust settles and you can get to see the funny side of things so I’ve no doubts that Danny and Josh are probably laughing at the media attention they’ve received.

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 Italian side Rovigo on Saturday in the European Challenge Cup, at the Madjeski Stadium in Reading.

If you would like to ask Nick a rugby or sport related question, leave a comment in the box below. Alternatively, you can share your thoughts with other readers in the 50connect forums, or email us at connect@50connect.com.

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