28 January 2023
The gravity of the west London derby is not lost on Matt Rogerson, the captain of London Irish and recent inductee into Irish’s 100 appearance club.
The Lancaster-born back-row forward has been welcomed into the Exiles family and adopted as one of the standard-bearers in his level of commitment to the cause on the field for the team.
Entering his fifth calendar year as player for Irish, Rogerson returns for a fixture he has played in seven times before; winning thrice, tasting defeat on three occasions, and tying once.
The nip-and-tuck nature of encounters with Harlequins in recent years has meant Sunday’s Round 16 game is one of the most finely poised and hotly anticipated days in both Clubs’ calendars.
“It’s as big as it gets for us,” Rogerson claimed.
“As a local rivalry down the road, they are a team we’ve had some really fierce battles with in the past, some of which we have come out on top and others we haven’t.
“In my time at the Club, the results have always been there or thereabouts and there hasn’t been much in them.
“With them being our nearest rivals, it adds that extra bit of spice to it and I have felt that in the build up to it this week from the lads, the coaches and the preparation put in.
“It means a lot and it will mean a great deal in terms of league positioning as well, there is a lot on the line and we want to keep pushing on to not be the team that keeps falling short.
“We feel like a big result could be coming our way, and hopefully this could be it this weekend.”
With Irish getting one up on their adversaries at the Stoop in the Premiership Rugby Cup this season, the tightness of the 26-24 reverse in the league meeting in TW2 will be a poignant reminder of the equal footing the sides have entered each match-up with in recent years.
Heading into the return leg at the Gtech Community Stadium, Rogerson and the team’s approach has remained process-driven, and not conserving past emotions from last time out.
“We were frustrated in how it went last time but we done well to park that and build from then onwards in our performances.
“Over the past few days, it was more about examining recent performances and improving our game based on those, because we need to understand what we need to put in place at present in order to do the job this weekend.
“It has been in the back of some people’s minds, myself included, but the boys have been very process-focused over the last few weeks.”
Alongside derby day preparation, this week has been a significant one personally for Rogerson.
He was rewarded with a new deal at the Hazelwood Centre for his contributions to the Club since arriving in the 2018/19 season, a recent addition to the repertoire of Exiles committing their future to Declan Kidney’s project.
The Club captain recently achieved a century of appearances for London Irish in a 39-17 win over Newcastle Falcons in the Gallagher Premiership at the Gtech.
Rogerson outlines the value of the contract for him and his family, describing it as a “big honour”.
“I was really pleased to sign a new contract, Irish is somewhere I’ve been for five years already so to extend that time now is really important to me.
“I’m very settled here, both as a player and getting on with the squad, management and off-field team, and equally my family is very happy.
“I enjoy my rugby at Irish, so to be given the chance to stay for a few more years is a big honour for me, and I’m looking forward to it.”
The constant evolution of the team and competitive levels offered on the pitch played its part in the 29-year-old wanting to keep his roots in west London for the next few seasons.
He explicated: “For me, the Club has continued on an upward trajectory since I have joined.
“I joined when the Club was in the Championship and was part of the team that achieved promotion, and year-on-year we have slowly built onwards.
“Getting into the Champions Cup with one of our highest points hauls in the league we’ve achieved shows we keep moving in the right direction.
“We’re building a really exciting squad here; there are a number of young players coming through the Academy, as well as guys we have brought in externally to complement a solid, settled group of senior players.
“There is a really nice balance of what we have here, which is exciting to be part of and I genuinely believe that we can achieve what we set out to – that is to win silverware.”
A surfeit of young players at London Irish, particularly in the back-row, will look to play a significant hand in Irish’s endeavour for a trophy lift in years to come.
Playing alongside more junior elements of the squad will add another layer of necessary leadership for Rogerson to introduce a new generation of talent into professional rugby life.
The Club centurion tells of how the younger players have settled in and what he can offer to those squad members.
“All of those guys are incredibly talented and don’t need that much help from me to be honest, because they all have amazing skillsets.
“I guess the thing I may have over those boys is some of the experience of playing at this level for a little longer, but they’re gaining that in bucket loads with every game and season they are here.
“They’re doing brilliantly and developing really well.
“I’m on hand to answer any questions that they may have and provide a bit of stability and calmness when things potentially become a bit overwhelming, which can happen as a younger player.
“I’ve worked my way through those situations before, and through experience, I like to think I can offer a bit more of a cool head in those moments if needed.”
Being one of four members of the London Irish leadership group, alongside Paddy Jackson, Rob Simmons and Adam Coleman, Rogerson is tasked with conveying the substance of gameweeks like these to the team.
Such is the grounding and discernment of the playing group, however, that extra impetus from the captain and his group is seldom required heading into a derby game.
“There are always going to be messages within the training week that get across the importance of the game, but a lot of it does speak for itself.
“The lads are aware of the rivalry due to the proximity and the hostility, but the leaders in the group chip in where necessary.
“The boys drive a lot of their own standards in what we’re trying to do and you can’t underestimate how it drives them personally, you can’t really force that on them, but the energy has been building really nicely.”
As business at Hazelwood gears towards the visit of the Famous Quarters, Irish’s skipper discloses what his side are expecting from their nearby challengers.
“They’re a team that play with speed over structure, play with tempo in an expansive type of game that looks for offloads and play on top of you.
“It could be a fast game and one that will excite fans, and we have some plans in place about how we want to try and stop that to try and get the better of them.
“It’s two teams with relatively not too dissimilar styles of how we approach the game, so I think it will be an entertaining one.”
With the biggest crowd of the season expected for the arrival of Tabai Matson’s men, the Exiles will be well supported in their quest for victory in the battle in the capital.
Rogerson took the time to offer a message of thanks to the ever-faithful Exile Nation, and implores the fans to continue their fantastic support this weekend.
“The big thing for us is that we’re aiming for a big a crowd as we can, and it’s brilliant to have so many people in there watching us.
“I want to say a massive thank you to all the fans that are going to come down for us, we really want to hear all the people in the stands especially in those tough moments in the game.
“When we hear that buzz in the atmosphere, that’s what really gets us up and equally in those times when we’re doing really well, it spurs us on to another level.”
You can purchase your seat at the Gtech Community Stadium to witness the west London derby here.