Things are not looking good for London Irish at the moment, they are stuck at the foot of the Aviva Premiership table, 12 points adrift of second-bottom side Worcester.
London Irish head coach Nick Kennedy has had a long association with the club, having joined the Academy at 19, going on to form a formidable second row partnership with another loyal servant – Bob Casey.
Kennedy played in the 2008 European Cup semi-final for Irish and the 2009 Premiership final, but it’s been a downward spiral for the club since.
He stepped into the role of head coach after they were relegated at the end of the 2015/16 season.
“A lot longer hours, a lot less fun definitely!” he joked when asked about the comparisons from being a player.
Their time in the Championship lasted only a season, with immediate promotion back to the Aviva Premiership.
“We really enjoyed our time there (in the Championship), the boys worked extremely hard, we looked to rebuild the culture and rebuild the team. We had an enjoyable season, we only lost one game and it was a unique season, it was all about the last game – finding out what league you were going to be in right at the end of May. It was an interesting season and we built throughout and we looked to try to take the momentum into the Premiership, but it is a very, very different league, a tough league.”
They got off to a perfect start with a 39-29 win over Harlequins at Twickenham on the opening day, but since then they’ve failed to register another victory, with 13 defeats following.
An honest Kennedy gave a frank assessment of their season:
“I think it took us all by surprise in that we did an awful lot of homework. I watched every Premiership game the year we were down. We had statisticians come through with all the stats, ball in play time, every stat on every scrum and lineout. We did an awful lot of prep, as much as we possibly could have done, however it just moves on year-on-year. The league gets better and better, people get bigger and stronger and it gets faster and faster. So whilst we thought we were prepared, ultimately if you look at the results we weren’t prepared.” he admitted.
He was asked by RugbyPass whether he feared the sack, with it being a results business.
“Yeah that’s professional sport at the top level, that’s life, it happens all the time. If you look at rugby in the last month or so, (Jim) Mallinder, Steve Tandy, that’s life, It is a results business and look I am completely responsible – if we are not getting the results it is my fault. So yeah that is up to the board to decide, but I will still keep working extremely hard and hopefully the results are going to come so it won’t come to that.”
February is a crucial month, London Irish began with a narrow 13-9 home defeat to Sale, securing a losing bonus point.
It means that Saturday’s match at Northampton and the home game against Worcester on February 25th look like must-wins, if they’re to a realistic chance of survival.
“We don’t really put points targets on (for February). We want to improve as a team, we want to get better. We need to get better than we have been and start winning games.” Kennedy said.
“Everyone believes. We were on the wrong end of some very close results, we got bonus points in very tough places against very good teams and one score games, it’s charge down kick or one missed tackle there, it is about making sure we concentrate for 80 minutes. We weren’t competitive at the beginning of the season, now we very much are.”
London Irish’s Italian international Luke McLean gave an honest appraisal of their predicament and their trio of Premiership matches in February.
“If we manage to win two of those games that could change our entire season, the vibe. Obviously everything is very positive still, but I think if you did lose all three maybe that positivity would sap the team. I think two (wins) you’d be flying high.”
Off the pitch London Irish have been speaking to potential new investors, as they seek to return to the glory days. Majority shareholder Mick Crossan has stated he wants Irish to be a “real contender” in the Aviva Premiership. Kennedy has welcomed the development, “I am a supporter of more money in, yeah definitely. I think every sports club would want more money!”
“We don’t work seven days a week, all the hours we work just to try and survive. We work because we want to succeed, All of us have a real chip on our shoulder where the club is and it has been over the years and we are doing everything we can, but we want to compete at the top level and these things don’t happen overnight.”
“You don’t just turn up from the Championship having done alright and suddenly competing at the top end of Europe and the top four in the Premiership. It is the very, very top end of rugby in Europe and it takes time to turn things around.”
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