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Irish brought back to earth

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Irish brought back down to earth with a bump - Andy Goode

Maybe we all got a bit carried away on the opening weekend of the season with the sun beating down and a record 50 tries scored. London Irish scored four of those in their victory over Harlequins at Twickenham but have been brought back down to earth with a bump since then.

The Exiles have now lost three on the spin and are conceding five tries and 36 points per game on average as the harsh realities of a long, hard Premiership season start to kick in.

As a promoted team, your goal is to stay in the league and you have to focus on the real basics in order to achieve that. Defence is the ultimate basic and they really need to improve theirs dramatically moving forwards.

If you’re conceding five tries per game, it’s a simple fact that you’re not going to win very many.

Northampton’s attacking game was very fluid at the weekend and they were accurate but there were some very basic individual errors from Irish. Rob Horne is an experienced player but he’s not a giant and he smashed through quite a few players.

They scored a try right at the end to reduce the deficit to 15 points but it was a cakewalk for Saints from the opening 20 minutes and it did look like first-up defence was a major issue for them.

They’ve got players who can cause other teams real problems but when you get promoted you’ve got to tailor your game in order to stay in the Premiership and that means having the solid foundations of a good set piece and defence. Unfortunately, London Irish are struggling with that at the moment.

There was a lot of intensity against Quins to start the season, with Blair Cowan and the back row in particular covering every blade of grass and ending people, but that seems to have completely dropped off.

The intensity can drop off away from home and you can understand that at Exeter, which is the toughest of away games, but Sale couldn’t catch a cold against Newcastle and then put 36 points on Irish the following week.

That defeat at the AJ Bell Stadium is an eye-opening one for them because what away games are you targeting when you look around the Premiership if you can’t target Sale.

Sunday’s result will have been the most worrying though because they will have felt that they should have beaten Northampton in front of their own fans and they got completely turned over.

You can dust yourselves off after an away defeat but it hurts to lose at home and the belief takes a big hit when you get an absolute pasting, as they did at the weekend.

The Madejski Stadium has never been a real stronghold of a place that teams fear going to but I’ve lost there a few times with various teams, including Leicester. They need to defend their home patch like there’s no tomorrow.

The crumb of comfort for London Irish is that they have got one victory on the board already and are four points clear of Worcester but you are looking at both at the moment and wondering where the next win is coming from.

They now go to Newcastle, who are sitting pretty in fourth place in the table having won away at Bath, so it’s an uphill struggle.

The Falcons are fourth in the table, deservedly so, and they’ll go top if they win on Friday…who would have thought that at the start of the season?

They have won both of their away games and even in defeat against Saracens in Philadelphia last week they showed some hard-edged rugby that will stand them in good stead in the tight games when the weather turns.

They finished eighth last season and, with the quality they have now got, their aim is absolutely to finish in the top six in this campaign and they are building momentum, which is giving them more and more confidence and belief that they can achieve that.

They will even start asking themselves if they can be a top four team and the nature of the Premiership so far, with some results that nobody would have predicted in the opening four rounds, means they might not be too far away.

I always look for a standout moment of the weekend and Craig Willis’ grubber kick was it for me this weekend. It was not a conventional grubber kick at all. He has deliberately put a bit of outswing on it and that’s something Dave Walder will have been practising with him when looking at different ways to open teams up.

It was a touch of genius and if Danny Cipriani or Beauden Barrett had done it, the world would be going mad and saying how great it was.

There is quality throughout their attacking setup and they seem to have a steely edge to them this season as well with Mark Wilson, Will Welch and others stepping up. And, they still have Toby Flood and Maxime Mermoz to come into the team as well.

They won’t be thinking about a relegation scrap any more and will only be looking up and that’s great for the club.

They might have had seven days between games but you take a couple of days to get back from the States and a couple of days to reacclimatize and then you have to prepare for Bath and travel down to the Rec, so they’ve done remarkably well to get the win.

A total of 20 clean breaks and 17 offloads away at the Rec tells you that they’re playing an attractive brand of rugby and really taking it to the opposition, home and away and regardless of who they’re facing.

Dave Walder is head coach now and I think he has been given more licence this year in the attacking game and I think the players are really enjoying the environment. When you’ve been in relegation battles there is a bit of doom and gloom around the place but they are in a different place completely now.

People are talking them up from the outside and saying that they can finish in the top six. That filters in to the players and they start to believe it…if they are serious contenders, they should have no problems in getting a comfortable victory over London Irish at home on Friday.

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Irish brought back down to earth with a bump - Andy Goode