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'That's a compliment': Why rookie Irish lock impressed Eddie Jones

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Alex Davidson/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

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Declan Kidney is looking forward to seeing what uncapped England prospect Chunya Munga can bring to the mix at London Irish following his involvement with Eddie Jones’ squad last summer. The 21-year-old lock was included in the training group announced in June and while he wasn’t an official part of the squad subsequently chosen for the Test matches, he was kept on by Jones as an ‘apprentice player’ and then even stayed in camp after suffering a knee ligament injury at training.  

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Munga, the Reading-born second row whose London Irish profile lists him at 120kgs and standing at 6ft 5ins, is now back in training at the Exiles and will be soon available for Gallagher Premiership selection following an eventful year where he signed a new contract with the club he has been attached to since the age of 14. 

Prior to the England squad assembling last June, Jones sounded intrigued by what the age-grade international might bring to the senior team party. “The young lock, we have been looking at him for a while, he has got something about him. I know he has been in the pathway teams but he is a big strong, athletic, physical type player, so he is an interesting prospect for us.”

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Munga has so far made 13 Premiership appearances and prompted by RugbyPass at a media briefing on Thursday, London Irish boss Kidney reflected on how his rising star fared with England and pondered what the future might be holding for him and other promising youngsters at the club.   

“I asked him what he had learned (with England) and he said, ‘What I learned is, it’s up to myself’,” explained Kidney. “When Chunya got a knee injury, there were still 13 days to go with England and he stayed on with them as an extra player. He was in the squad as an extra player but wasn’t an official part of it. The English camp hung onto him to keep him in camp. 

“Now that is a compliment to the personality of the young man because it would have been easy for England to say, ‘Look, he is injured, you guys look after him’. But they didn’t. They said, ‘We’d like to keep him in camp because he is obviously good around the rest of the players’. At the same time then you don’t want to be assigning players who are just good in and around the team room and stuff like that, but he is a young man playing right in the middle of the engine room so there are a few things physically, technically, tactically that he has to come right but seeing the potential in him is part of the trick. 

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“The other part of the trick is I have written a lot of school reports (as a teacher prior to going into coaching) and I have a few school reports myself where it said I have potential but you have to work at the potential to bring it to fruition. So he has potential. He is good in and around the team, he has a lot of good qualities, and it’s working on that potential now to bring him forward.”

Kidney added that he was talking not so long ago to England boss Jones about Munga and other Irish players the Australian could be interested in. “We have had chats. I met him recently and he thanked us for letting Chunya join the squad as an extra player because with the rules in England you can only have certain size squads.

“Eddie gave us a call to say, ‘Look, this is the size of the squad, Chunya didn’t make it but any chance he could join us as an extra?’ Unfortunately, he picked up an injury. It was nobody’s fault and he is working his way back from that. He is training with us now and is very close to playing. He will be more experienced and I always think when you get injuries like that, maybe he will get a few extra weeks at the end of his career, that he will get it [that time] back if he looks after himself properly.”

London Irish don’t usually have players called up to the England squad, their youngsters instead moving on elsewhere and then making it on the international scene. Recent Lions pick Anthony Watson is an example of this trend that regularly occurred in times past. Kidney, though, has attempted to put a stop to that pattern and now hopes the club’s latest contingent of promising youngsters – including Munga – can enjoy prosperous careers at London Irish without feeling the need to move elsewhere to enhance their Test level prospects.

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“You don’t ever want to talk about a five- or a seven-year plan because people’s careers are so short, they don’t want to be hearing about that but you have to have something in the back of your mind to do that. When Les (Kiss) and I started out (at Irish in 2018), we had this array of players who had out clauses to leave and were leaving and you think, ‘Well, what is all this about?’

“We changed that structure a little bit. We had a number of younger players that we knew were good but we wanted then to have players in and around them that could show them the ropes to aspire to. Players like Sean (O’Brien), Rob Simmons, these lads who have been there and done it, they would look to them and chat with them and ask what does it take to get there (to the top) because sometimes their head can be swayed about ‘if I go here and do this…’

“But really it comes down to nothing but hard work and they are then also enjoying each other’s company so they [the youngsters] can see what we are doing and are trying to build from within. Utopia is in years to come: London Irish have produced all their own team. Now there is not a team in the world that has done that, so you won’t ever get it like that but the more you can do that the more lads will enjoy it. 

“They grow up together, enjoy playing with one another and there is a nucleus. We have that. Our back three has been spoken about. Ben Donnell is coming through, Chunya is coming through, it always takes the front rows a bit longer to come through… and we have identified one or two other fellas in the backs then as well that will come through in the future.

“But you can’t expect the fellas who are here to stay on then either unless you are competitive right now. It’s a real mix and a progression. You don’t want to be talking, ‘Oh, we will do something in three years’ time’. What we want to do is we want to do something Saturday (against Leicester) because if you do something Saturday then other things will unfold from that.”

 

 

  

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