12 February 2023
Declan Danaher, London Irish Assistant Coach, believes he and the team have "unfinished business" in the Premiership Rugby Cup this year as the west Londoners progressed to the final of the competition for a second season running.
Tries from Lucio Cinti, Josh Basham and Eddie Poolman against Northampton Saints, as well as a 100% kicking record from Rory Jennings, ensured that a cup final would be hosted at the Gtech Community Stadium for consecutive years.
The 30-18 final score means the Exiles will now face either of Sale Sharks or Exeter Chiefs on 19th March, affording an opportunity to exorcise ghosts of last season as Worcester Warriors triumphed at the final hurdle against Irish.
Danaher analyses what he saw go right for Irish on the evening against a determined travelling Saints outfit.
“We have been calm all week, we asked for focus and intent and on the back of that, we knew we could get a performance that would take us to the final,” he stated.
"I can’t wait, it’s St. Patrick’s Day weekend and it’ll be a great atmosphere at home.
"I said at half-time that it wasn’t going to be easy, but the way the boys applied themselves all week behind the scenes was fantastic.
"We spoke about bringing a focus to what we were doing in terms of the way we wanted to attack and having real intent in defence, and we did that.
"We were probably a bit unlucky at half-time not to go in with a try, but that’s life, and we spoke about a couple of things we could do in defence and play in the right areas.
"We scored the try after half-time, but what Saints did very well was pinning pressure back on us.
"Our replacements were fantastic, Hugh O’Sullivan kicked brilliantly in putting Saints back in their own half, exactly what they were doing to us.
“In the end I think that is what told, and we scored a try off the back of it.”
The Exiles' imperious recent home form saw them extend their winning run in domestic competition at the Gtech to six, having lost just once in their last six in all competitions to boot.
That run, which included a 26-7 win over Bath Rugby to qualify for the semi-final against Northampton, has demonstrated the transferable competitive mindset across squad members and competition.
“The players and us have got unfinished business, and I think we have shown all the way through that there’s an expectation of where we want to get to.
"We didn’t look too far ahead, but we wanted to get the final.
"For a lot of lads, that still hurts from last year because it was definitely a competition we could’ve won, but didn’t.
"Now we have a second go at it and we’ll have to play very well if we are to beat Exeter or Sale, who have set the standard in recent years.
"Our focus now switches to the Premiership and Bath for the time being, and we want to continue the momentum we have earned and worked hard for in the league.”
Danaher talked of an elevated level of mature mindset that has allowed Irish to remain an unbeaten side in this year's cup competition, which will look to continue on the two remaining competitive fronts in the 2022/23 season.
“You want the players to trust in the process when they are out there, but then like anything, with stress and pressure in knockout rugby, you tend to deviate from what you’ve do well.
"What I think we showed is staying the course knowing it was a big challenge, and the lads got the job done in the end.
"That’s the key of where we want to go in this final, we know our capabilities and we’ll plan really well so the players can be prepared for when the stresses come on, they can execute and perform.
"That’s on us coaches to help them with that in terms of pushing buttons to dial things up and down to keep that pressure on in that cauldron in the lead up to the game.”
"Laying the platform" for Irish's success on the evening was a presiding effort from the pack, both in terms of physicality and set-piece dominance.
The home side failed to lose a scrum in Brentford, winning five and overturning two, in an impactful effort when fronting up against Phil Dowson's men.
“It was a hell of a shift; being led by Chunya [Munga] and Cookey [Jack Cooke], Josh Basham too, and Sooty [So’otala Fa’aso’o] probably had his best game in the shirt and really stepped up.
"Coco’s [Ignacio Ruiz] only 21, but he is going to be a hell of a player and I think we has backed up well by the way Facu [Facundo Gigena] and LJ [Lovejoy Chawatama] played at scrum time, they set a real platform.
"You couple that with a confidence of what we could do in certain areas of attack, but it’s just about ‘boxing clever’, rather than just playing to the play sheet and having a feel for the game.
"Hugh and Stokesy [James Stokes] done that really well, who came on for Michael [Dykes] early on to make a big impact.”
Danaher continued to wax lyrical of his players, with Rory Jennings rightfully receiving his credit for outstanding recent performances.
Friday evening's outing was no different, the versatile back metronomic in his kicking as he contributed 15 points and accounted for half of Irish’s tally on the night, his biggest haul in his two seasons at the Club.
What Jennings brings to the team goes beyond his capabilities from the tee, in the eyes of the coaching staff.
“Jenno [Rory Jennings] is having a great season, it took off from where it was last year when he came off the bench for Paddy Jackson against Sarries and up to the point of where he picked up an injury.
"In terms of our attacking shape and marshalling the troops, I thought he was brilliant.
"He may have started off the season a little slower, which is to be expected after returning from an injury, but off the back of playing in the cup his form really took off.
"We as coaches had conversations with him and we knew how good he can be, him and Paddy are brilliant as two playmakers out there and really allow our attack to flow.
"We have two guys singing from the same hymn sheet, and that’s why it translates well when we bring in Jacob Atkins.”