Jack Cooke, who will captain the London Irish team competing for the Premiership Rugby Cup trophy, trusts the Exile Nation will play their part in spurring the team on this Sunday against Exeter Chiefs.
Cooke has played every minute of the cup tournament this term, and has been entrusted with the leadership role as the west Londoners surged to successive final berths.
The 25-year-old also believes he has been on a journey of discovery this term, under guidance from the Club’s leadership group where he has learnt new motivational skills as he orchestrated the winning run to date.
Having grown up immersed within the Club, Cooke explicates on the gravity of the tie against Chiefs this weekend.
“We take a lot of motivation from the way last season ended both in the cup and the league, it wasn’t how we wanted our season to end,” he said.
“But more importantly, we will be more motivated for the game we have ahead of us this week – it’s massive for the Club, and it’s a really exciting time for London Irish.
“It’s been over two decades since we had major silverware, so we can’t underestimate the importance of a win to the supporters, the staff, the players and the coaches.
“Everyone has their own motivations, but having been a supporter, a ball boy, season ticket holder and a mascot, it definitely motivates me and every time I pull on the shirt it’s a massive moment for me and my family.”
The Exiles have flexed their youthful vigour this season not only through another memorable cup run, but also through a third-place finish in the RFU ACE League and picking up the Premiership Rugby Under-18 Academy League.
Thats not to mention Senior Academy involvement in the first team matchday 23, with Michael Dykes and Tarek Haffar contributing vital tries and Chandler Cunningham-South amassing the joint-second most appearances this season (19).
Cooke affirmed that affording opportunities to those junior elements of the squad only strengthens the form of the Club overall.
“It’s exactly what you want to see, the under-18s won their league, we’re in the final of the cup and we’re going well in the Premiership.
“Everything happening at the Club is going brilliantly, when you’re doing well in the cup it pushes you on in the Premiership and you can see that recently.
“There are a few lads who have been waiting for game time, the cup affords them that opportunity and we saw last season that if you go well in the cup, you can get that chance in Premiership rugby.
“If you look at Henry [Arundell], he was playing for us in the cup and then got capped by England the same season – it shows there is a route for everyone to push on through the cup.
“It’s the making of every strong Club, it’s vital we push, go hard and do well in every game we play.
“It’s just as important to win games in the cup as it is in the league and Europe, it can give an extra motivation for the team on multiple fronts, and that is evident across the last couple of years.”
A competitive atmosphere at the training paddock in south-west London also breeds a cooperative one too, with Cooke leaning on the experience beside him to help nurture his own leadership qualities.
He cites the Club’s leadership group of Matt Rogerson, Paddy Jackson, Rob Simmons and Adam Coleman, as well as his teammates on cup matchdays, in developing his character and sharing the decision-making moments in games.
Cooke explained: “I’ve learnt so many different things from different people at the Club, the leaders in the group have been amazing.
“The one big thing for me is learning how everyone is different and will need to be motivated differently, also making big decisions in games.
“It’s not all down now to me though, there are so many leaders across the squad in both the Prem and cup squads that I can rely on helping me.”
As ever against Exeter, a physical battle awaits for the Exiles.
In what will be a first tournament meeting between the sides since the formation of the Premiership Rugby Cup, the skipper is aware that recent form will account for little in a final arena when competing for silverware.
Exceeding the aggressive contest Chiefs will bring will be a crucial component of any prospective victory this weekend, all while sticking to the London Irish way of rugby.
“Up front will be important, you know what Exeter come with in terms of their maul and physicality.
“We need to match that, but we still want to play the way we want to in throwing the ball around and playing exciting rugby.
“To be able to do that, we have to be at their level across the park.”
A strong supporting contingent in the stands has undoubtedly been a key contributor in Irish’s home success this season, and Cooke believes it will again play its role in boosting the Exiles on Sunday afternoon.
“I honestly believe we have one of the best stadiums in the league, it’s in such a good spot and the supporters love coming.
“We love having the supporters there, and I’m sure they will be there in strong numbers cheering us on this Sunday and for the rest of the season.
“They help us to push through games, and we’re looking forward to seeing them.
“A final is a big enough occasion as it is, we’re all buzzing for it and the fact it’s on St. Patrick’s weekend will make it all the more special for our supporters and the Club.
“I do believe we have unfinished business and something to prove, the way it finished last year was pretty different and frustrating but we’ll look to make things right on Sunday.”