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'These lads have gone from Championship to 10th, to 9th, to 8th and now to 5th'

By PA
(Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

Declan Kidney paid tribute to his London Irish players after they put a difficult week behind them to finish their campaign with a 17-14 win over Exeter Chiefs at the Gtech Stadium.

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The Exiles clinched fifth place in the league with the victory, their best finish in 14 years, after a week in which their players were paid late while the club’s proposed takeover continues to drag on.

Argentina flanker Juan Martin Gonzalez crossed twice, with Tom Pearson coming off the bench for another try for Irish, with Kidney ranking the emotion of this week up there with anything he has experienced in the game.

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He said: “For the year’s work, I’m delighted for everybody in the organisation. The players have been brilliant, when you think that is only our second game in six weeks.

“The fact we have finished up with the best of the rest, for some it might not mean much but for us, given where we’ve come from, we’re absolutely delighted with it.

“There were many, many challenges, like every club in this league, that we have had to overcome. Some of them have been more recent and how the boys did that, how the coaches, strength and conditioners, everyone stayed on track. These lads were always going to play.

“These lads have gone from Championship to 10th, to ninth, to eighth and now to fifth.

“We’re planning for a rich future with the age of the lads out on the pitch, that is what we are building it on. There is a rich future for this club on the pitch and I’m sure the people off the pitch will do the business and see it through.”

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Exeter had chosen to leave out their considerable departing contingent, including the likes of Sam Simmonds and Jack Nowell, instead turning their attentions to the future.

Following the match, which saw Jacques Vermeulen and Tom Hendrickson crossing in the narrow defeat as Exeter finish seventh, head coach Ali Hepher said: “From our perspective, we are happy with it. If we’d had a few more efforts like that over the course of the season, we’d have been seriously contending.

“As a starter for next season, we’re super happy and very excited about working with these boys.

“I really enjoyed this week. All the coaches have and enjoyed that game probably more than any other this season because we showed an endeavour and a fight that showed we will be competitive.

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“It bodes well for the future, we will add a few more on top but the foundation is there.

“All their rugby is ahead of them for this group, very few of them have won trophies so they are hungry and that is the exciting thing.

“I’m looking forward to day one of pre-season already and working with this group. Let’s rip into next season and see where we’re at.”

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