LONDON IRISH are at a crossroads, finding themselves aiming for the top four of the Premiership whilst preparing for a Challenge Cup quarter final.
Today (April 2) will see Cardiff Blues make the journey down to Brentford in a round of 16 match. The Exiles are aminig to make the quarter finals of the competition for the first time in 2016.
The Exiles made the move back to London for the first time in 20 years in November 2020, ground-sharing with Brentford FC at the newly built Brentford Community Stadium.
However, they’ve only played one game in front of home fans which was a 13-21 loss against the Sale Sharks in early December.
Since then, all games have been held behind closed doors, dampening spirits on what otherwise should have been a much-welcomed return to the capital.
Last week’s pulsating win against Bath would’ve had the Community Stadium rocking.
The game was full of tries and exhilarating running rugby that the Exile nation would’ve lapped up. There was also plenty of controversy.
Two red cards were dished out to the away side during the game, including to Bath’s captain Charlie Ewels.
However, the Exiles did not escape the wrath of the referee, who handed out yellow cards to Ben Donnell and Jack Cooke for infringing and both the breakdown and line-out respectively.
The win ensured that the Exiles ended their losing streak over Bath since they last beat them 29-22 at the Madejski Stadium in September 2012.
The game was supposed to mark the St Patrick’s Day game that the Exiles usually put on for their fans every year.
The pandemic put a dampener on that and Exiles Director of Rugby, Declan Kidney emphasised the importance that athletes have had during this difficult period.
“We’re very lucky to be in the position that we’re in to get on with our jobs. I think sportspeople all around the world have that social responsibility to get out and do our job, we’re in a privileged position whereby we get tested more often.
“In fairness to all the players and the staff, they have to work really hard to keep our bubble as safe as possible because it could have huge effects to it, but it gives people something to look forward to, whether we win or lose, and I think that is an important thing for all sportspeople.”
Kidney also praised his back three of Ollie Hassell-Collins, Tom Parton and Ben Loader, who scored two tries against Bath on Saturday, March 27.
“They’re improving a lot, it’s been part of the journey for us. This club does a lot for English rugby. When you consider Anthony Watson, Joe Cokanasiga, Jonathan Joesph, they all went through here. These are just more lads that are coming through the system so long may the club do that for English rugby.”
Loader, who scored two tries in the game against Bath, was full of confidence as the Exiles head towards the European knockout tie against Cardiff.
“We’re really looking to go after this game to get a good run of form and some momentum in Europe because we haven’t been there for a little while and we want to keep up the form that we’re hitting,” he said.
The Exiles have had tough times in the past few years with various promotions and relegations from both the Championship and the Premiership, but being back home in London, it almost feels that the club is starting to turn a corner.
Only time will tell whether the Exiles can start to taste silverware on both the domestic and European fronts.