A disappointing start to the season has left London Irish at the foot of the table, stranded on 0 points with no wins, after playing 6 games. Despite this, there have been some periods in which the Exiles have played well, challenging top teams such as Saracens and Wasps for the majority of the game. Ultimately; however, the failure to pick up losing bonus points is currently proving costly in the Premiership. By contrast their fortunes are considerably better in the Challenge Cup after wins against Edinburgh and Agen. The victory over Edinburgh was particularly impressive with the Exiles scoring six tries and conceding none; offering hope that they can only improve.
The primary problem that London Irish seem to have is their lack of possession. The two worst perfomances of the season have been the defeats to Harlequins and Exeter. During these two games the Exiles had 17 % and 14% possession respectively. A team very rarely wins games with this meagre amount of ball and so this is the immediate problem for the team to address. Another issue dogging London Irish is a comparatively poor kicking game. This sometimes results in the lack of possession and offers the opposition chances to counter attack.
However, there have been many improvements to the Exiles’ game this season. The new philosophy that Tom Coventry has brought with him is starting to establish itself resulting in London Irish executing more offloads than any other team in the Premiership this season. This has improved the attacking game since there is more variety to bamboozle defences.
The scrum is much improved with the addition of Ben Franks and Halani Aulika’s return to full fitness. This season the scrum is providing a platform for attack and can also be used as a defensive weapon to win penalties. The maul is also becoming a key part of London Irish’s armoury. This was particularly evident in the defeat to Bath when it was used to great effect in both attack and defence.
A further positive is the increased strength in depth now available to Tom Coventry and the other coaches. New signings such as Brendan McKibbin, Ben Franks, Aseli Tikoroituma and particularly Matt Symons have improved the team’s potency. Symons’ contribution to the Exiles’ cause was epitomised by his 25/25 tackles at the London Double Header; the most by any player in the Premiership without missing one since May 2011.
It isn’t just the new signings who are nailing down starting spots; the first graduates from the newly revamped Academy are starting to push into the first team. Gerard Ellis showcases his impressive carrying skills on a regular basis, challenging England international David Paice at hooker whilst 18 year old Theo Brophy Clews is placing considerable pressure on Shane Geraghty and Chris Noakes to perform at fly half. The most eye catching academy performer; however, has been Johnny Williams who has formed a solid centre partnership with Tikoroituma and has shown his gain line breaking and try scoring ability. Williams has been one of, if not, the standout player for London Irish thus far- a considerable achievement in a team that contains 15 internationals.
London Irish will start to gel in the near future; glimpses of their ability were shown yesterday and they should start to become more consistent as they adapt to a new style of play.