Exiled from the capital for over two decades but now finding their feet back in the Big Smoke, there is a charm to the London Irish story.
Moving home is never easy, but in the Brentford Community Stadium they have a more permanent base. Now they need to show they can make it work on the field.
London Irish haven’t won a game of rugby in the Premiership since April. In their last 11 played matches they have lost nine and drawn two. They have the squad and facilities to challenge for top-flight European places, so what is going so wrong?
Irish’s Crazy Quarter
The rugby isn’t bad. In fact, it’s very entertaining. The squad is of high quality; a mixture of home-grown talent and classy foreign imports. It’s just not adding up to an 80-minute performance, and opposition sides find Irish too easy to suss out during this period of the match.
The team tends to have a quarter of each match where anything goes. Almost as if their footballing neighbours, Brentford, have turned up, the Exiles tend to open up and try a little bit of everything.
Often it works in part, with the side able to use their exciting wingers, Ollie Hassell-Collins and Ben Loader, to run onto flat passes and kicks in behind, often to score.
However, when a game becomes so loose, it’s inevitable that you too will become defensively shaky. Irish, for that 20 minutes per game, often become leaky. Easier to bulldoze over, easier to break down and easier to get through and behind.
The rugby is of the “you score 20 and we’ll score 21” mentality. But when they come up against more rounded squads, they struggle to outscore their opponents. They even struggled against Worcester, who have just two wins in 26.
Agustin Creevy, the former Argentina captain, and Australian duo Rob Simmons and Adam Coleman are more experienced heads among the very talented but youthful English-qualified players.
But Irish suffer when those quality imports are substituted. Very few squads can replace such quality with equivalent talent, and Irish are no different. Their young side simply doesn’t have the rugby knowhow that the likes of Creevy have: getting out of ruts, turning the screw and not slowing down when in the lead.
Without true leadership across the entire 80 minutes, in both the forwards and the backs, Irish have struggled to close games out and attract new stars or keep the existing talent.
Just Hold On
Irish have always provided fertile ground for English talent. Their very strong academy tends to nurture players before other clubs snap up the best. Anthony Watson, Marland Yarde, Jonathan Joseph and Jack and Tom Willis were all part of the London Irish set-up when the side was based in Reading.
Their performances on the field may not be earning wins for the club, but some of the individual displays will be raising eyebrows elsewhere. Quality on the wings and young forwards learning off some of the Premiership’s best can only add to their value.
The question for Irish is: do we win now or lose everything later?
Without a win in the next couple of weekends: senior players and their agents will begin looking elsewhere for contracts, non-season ticket holders will question whether they should attend and the owners will eventually wonder whether the project worth the effort.
It’ll come for Irish. But until it does, until that rut of not winning comes to a conclusion, having the belief they can turn around matches in the manner of defending champions Harlequins will be ephemeral.