London Irish opted to send former All Blacks wing Waisake Naholo for surgery to help ensure they are truly competitive next season, a tactic that mirrored their earlier decision to also have Wallaby lock Adam Coleman operated on rather than play in the restarted 2019/20 Gallagher Premiership.
Irish are on a miserable seven-game losing streak and have four matches remaining in the interrupted season. But with Saracens automatically relegated to the Championship, the Exiles have opted to begin preparations for the November start to the 2020/21 season rather than play players at the moment who aren’t 100 per cent.
Assistant Brad Davis, who joined the Irish coaching set-up at the start of the Covid-19 interrupted season, is adamant this strategy will be proved correct when they play out of their new home at the Brentford Community Stadium.
Irish, who host temporary landlords Harlequins at The Stoop on Wednesday, have taken heart from pushing Gloucester hard last weekend before late mistakes consigned them to a 36-23 Kingsholm defeat.
Davis told RugbyPass: “We want to become a great team and a lot of decisions we made in this second block (of games) – with Saracens’ relegation already in place – means these matches are gold dust for us and we are super excited to be going to Brentford.
It wasn't to be on Saturday, but great to see @OHassellcollins add another score to his tally ?
— London Irish (@LiRFC) September 7, 2020
“We took decisions to let players have operations during these nine games. Adam Coleman had surgery on his shoulder when we were unsure when rugby would start up again. Waisake Naholo had an operation on his knee while in lockdown in New Zealand and we are hopeful those guys will be fit for the start of the new season.
“The players we have brought in like Sean O’Brien, Paddy Jackson, Sekope Kepu and Agustin Creevy have that international winning mentality and can drive the frustration that builds to ensure it never turns into a negative situation.
“It will spur us on. The beauty of having of our recruitment programme is that we get these players who are influential on and off the field driving the standards we need.
“What happens in the next four games will not define us for next season by any stretch because we are putting a lot of things in place that are going to help the club moving forward. We are not in the game to finish eleventh or tenth, and it would be nice to climb up from ninth.”
The final piece in London Irish’s high profile recruitment drive will arrive in around two weeks when Rob Simmons, the highly experienced Waratahs and Wallaby lock, completes his move to London to join fellow internationals such as O’Brien, Jackson, Nick Phipps, Coleman, Kepu and the recently arrived Creevy, the former Pumas skipper.
“We are hopeful that we will have Rob Simmons here in the next couple of weeks depending on quarantine,” continued Davis. “Losing does build pressure and it’s about seeing in this situation which young players rise to the top and fight their way through adversity.
“With no relegation there can only be opportunity. While we want to get into the winner’s circle as soon as possible. Through a bit of pain we are going to come out at the right end of the stick. We are gelling effectively and the season has been broken up into two parts. We built up some momentum in the first half and in the second part there are two different squads – pre-lockdown and post-lockdown.
“Our post-lockdown squad is lower in numbers and that provides an opportunity to give our academy players an opportunity. Although it’s frustrating being on the losing side of the ledger in the long term it will hold us in good stead when we are in Brentford.
“We have seen improvements in our games since the restart and we have been right in it at 60 minutes and we need to finish things off.”
'As it stands a lot of guys on June 30 are going to be unemployed' @topsy_ojo talks the brutal reality of contracts, @LiRFC , their new stadium and how he's transitioning to life after the game, with @heagneyl ??https://t.co/PjrB41nuTu
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) June 7, 2020
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