Things slowly improved as players returned, however as 1946 turned into 1947 Europe and the United Kingdom in particular suffered one of the most horrendous winters of the century. Grounds were frozen with the result that London Irish played only 20 games.
The club's fortunes were to change dramatically in the following season as key players joined including a new captain in Des O'Brien, one of the great back row forwards of his time. He went on to manage the 1966 Lions tour to New Zealand. The first XV played thirty games losing only nine, winning 19 and drawing two to record the most successful season in the club's history to date and a fitting way in which to celebrate its 50th anniversary. A bonus for the club was that four players - Kevin O'Flanagan, Jim Corcoran, John Daly and Des O'Brien played for Ireland in that season's Five Nations.
It was also in this remarkable season that London Irish decided that given the undeveloped state of Sunbury, it would be in the club's best interest to combine with Blackheath and share the facilities at the Rectory Field in south-east London.
As the 1950s dawned, the club was fielding six teams most weeks making it a thriving hub of London rugby with a growing reputation for the fun to be had off the pitch as well as the commitment and organisation on it. It was also at this time that the club began a schoolboys' section that was to be important in the years that followed.
In 1951 London Irish became the first club in Britain to host a touring Italian team when Roma came to town and played at Blackheath. Indeed the early 1950s saw a host of great rugby teams coming to Rectory Field to play either Blackheath or London Irish. The only problem from an Exiles' perspective was that the club was split in two with the junior teams using the steadily improving facilities at Sunbury and the senior team playing in the south-east of the capital.
By the mid-fifties the club had started to put together the nucleus of a squad that would one day provide the club with its finest season in its first hundred years. Prominent among the players was a young scrum-half called Andrew Mulligan who played his first season at Irish in 1952-53 when he was only 16! He was to go on to play for Cambridge, Ireland, the Lions and the Barbarians.
Andy was one of three famous members to play for the Lions during the mid-fifties - Robin Thompson captained the touring party to South Africa in 1955, the other was a certain A J O'Reilly of whom more later.
It was also at this time that doubts began to surface about the first team's residence at Blackheath. By 1957 Bill Morgan, the club's formidable administrator, in his end of season review reported that the "committee have considered ways and means whereby our ground at Sunbury can be made into a first-class playing condition with a stand." The decision was taken to return to Sunbury when the lease at Blackheath finished in 1959. A major fund-raising drive was launched to ensure some capital was raised as a down payment on the loans that would inevitably be needed to build the stand. The money was raised and Sunbury prepared for the return of the senior team. The final game was played at Rectory Field on 11th April, 1959 - a "home" victory over Old Merchant Taylors.
Show your "Exile-Style" and wear it with pride!