London Irish lock Josh Caulfield has projected a sentiment of unity from within the Exiles’ ranks ahead of their second successive Premiership Rugby Cup appearance, taking on Northampton Saints this Friday.
Caulfield and the team come off the back of a fallow week in domestic competition, but despite the time off, complacent they are not as the 25-year-old outlined the determination within the team to reach another Premiership Rugby Cup final.
This evening’s knockout fixture at the Gtech Community Stadium succeeds a pool stage encounter between the sides, where a late Irish turnaround saw the home time pick up maximum points to finish 28-26.
With Irish’s story arc in the competition evident after last year’s final loss, the frame of mind amongst the squad remains away from the past and focused on this weekend’s match-up in west London.
“I wasn’t here last year but when I was watching the game and felt the frustration and disappointment,” Caulfield stated.
“The way it ended in the final was gutting, but everyone is focused on this year, and we have to get past Northampton first before we start worrying about anything else beyond that.
“The Club is growing and wants to continue to do so, all of the coaching staff we have here are unbelievable, the time that they put into us is another level and they’re always there to help.
“We all want to push forward together, and it is progressing really nicely.
“It’s a massive game, they have brought down a quality side and we want to go for back-to-back finals, which makes for a really tantalising prospect.
“It’s just about going that one step further this evening, the boys are determined and want to go well this year.”
The feeling of playing in knockout rugby is something that the team will want going forward, having progressed out of the pool stages in the last two editions of cup tournaments.
In doing so, the Premiership Rugby Cup offers an examination into the depth of Clubs’ playing squads, something the second-row forward only sees as a benefit going forward.
He continued: “We were in the Heineken Champions Cup for the first time in a while as a Club, we went hard in that but couldn’t push through and in the Prem, it is so tight.
“The difference from us to the play-offs in the league if just a couple of points, there’s so much to play for.
“Everyone wants to play knockout rugby, especially in the Prem Cup, and reaching the semi-finals and beyond is a massive step forward for any Club.
“The team has a really nice blend of players in both squads, in the cup you will see younger boys get a chance alongside players with less time in the Premiership get their shot too.
“What’s nice about the fixture is having it as a standalone game in the week instead of a double gameweek, we can put all of our focuses into one match.
“We will be prepared enough to go into the game and look to do a job this Friday.”
Northampton await this weekend for Irish, a team that share the split of results this season in two meetings across the Gallagher Premiership and Premiership Cup.
A meeting of familiar styles in attack will trigger intrigue for supporters and neutrals alike, with Caulfield aware of the challenge the East Midlands side poses to the Exiles.
“As it’s semi-final week, everyone’s very excited and the boys have been flying in training, and we’ve had some really good sessions to build towards a really important game this week.
“We played them in both the cup and the league at their place, and they’re a team that want to play.
“They are similar to us in that respect; wanting to play with quick ball, and with that, they will also have a big pack with a strong maul threat.
“We have to stand up to them up front and slow down the pace of their game, using what we have got to put them under pressure.
“Both teams will want to play expressively, so it should be an exciting game of rugby.”
Caulfield and the team savour the opportunity of progressing through tournaments at home, with the Gtech coming into its own this year in the eyes of the playing squad.
“For me coming into this Club, it does feel like the Gtech has become the home of London Irish.
“There’s London Irish everywhere when you come into the ground, from the banners to the billboards, and it has made it that extra special and homely.
“It makes the difference for our family, friends and supporters that make them come to watch you, and I feel the team have repaid that over recent months with some big wins.
“It’s about continuing that on now for us, it’s a great stadium and the atmosphere is building.”