Declan Kidney has vowed to make London Irish a much tougher team to beat when the 2020/21 Gallagher Premiership season gets going in November. Irish’s form in the recent 2019/20 restart was underwhelming, the Exiles losing eight of their nine matches. 

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They now have five and a half weeks to get ready for their new campaign opener, a November 21 trip to Worcester, and they know that with the safety net of Saracens’ automatic relegation no longer protecting them next term, their recent run of results can’t be repeated. 

“It’s important we give the supporters answers,” admitted Kidney to Irish fans at a supporters’ club Zoom function. “We’re a club that focuses on results, not excuses – but it’s important to communicate with our supporters through the good times and the not so good times.

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“Nine guys made their debuts in this period and even though results have been painful for us all, the game-time and experience will be key for them all going forward. One match is worth 100 training sessions and this experience will be gold for some of the younger guys in the future.

“We knew it would take time and when you don’t have momentum, losing becomes a habit. But we broke that cycle at Exeter and that is all credit to the players. To win that penultimate game of the season, guaranteeing a top-ten finish, shows the strength of character we have in this group.”

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Despite the glut of losses, there are two reasons for optimism that improvement might not be that far away – the return to health of a pile of players who were injured and the move to their new stadium in Brentford. “Once Covid hit in, we had to make some decisions, both in terms of rehabilitation and operations,” explained Kidney, sifting through some of the star Irish name absences.

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“Waisake Naholo was down in New Zealand. He had an operation on his knee before coming back to London. He’s back up and running now, and as soon as the hospitals opened here, Adam Coleman went in for surgery. He had two surgeries, but he’s back on the grass now too.

“Sean O’Brien and Steve Mafi had hamstring issues at the start of the restart period – we felt that if we over-extended them during the end of the 19/20 season, we could end up pushing them too much that they would risk missing out on the start of 20/21.

“Since then we have also lost Matt Williams for six to nine months to an ACL injury, and Terrence Hepetema is out for three to five months with a broken wrist.

“Rob Simmons will join up with us after his Australia commitments, hopefully in time for round two of Europe, so it’s clear we will be in a far stronger position at the start of next season when the vast majority of the guys will be back to add extra competition to the squad.”

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As for the impending stadium switch from Reading to Brentford, via The Stoop which they used for ‘home’ games during the restart, Kidney added: “Seeing the stadium with the entire squad for the first time recently really brought it home that we are embarking on a new chapter in our history.

“Of course, it won’t be the same in the short-term without our supporters in the stadium, but we’ll be doing everything within our powers to make the fans feel part of our journey back to London during the time in which they, unfortunately, can’t be with us.”

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