Assistant Coach Brad Davis has said that motivation will be no issue for his Exiles this week as London Irish prepare to take on rivals Harlequins in Round 16 of the Gallagher Premiership.
Irish return to the league on Sunday at the Gtech Community Stadium, a venue that the west Londoners have not tasted defeat in four outings in domestic competition.
Davis believes that it is up to the team to now “stay in the hunt” in a tight 2022/23 Premiership following on from the Club’s recent elimination from Europe.
The experienced Australian coach looks back on his team’s most recent shortcomings, after Montpellier Hérault clawed back a 21-point deficit to equalise five minutes from time in the fourth round of the Heineken Champions Cup.
“From my perspective, looking at a 21-all draw away to Montpellier it is a good result but the circumstances that we found ourselves in being 21 points up, it then doesn’t so much feel like a great result,” he explained.
“There were aspects of our game in the second half that were really positive and we done well to build that lead into the second half, but we ran out of steam under immense pressure from a side that were gunning for four tries.
“They were always going to have a high amount of ball in play and go after us, but for us as a team it wasn’t so much us failing to execute or tactics, it was more individual moments that let us down to invite more pressure.
“We’re disappointed that we are out of Europe, but you can’t get much bigger games next up than Harlequins coming to Brentford in a local derby – motivation won’t be an issue for us this week!”
Addressing Irish’s output without the ball, Davis sees progress within his squad in recent weeks in that respect ahead of taking on one of the league’s most famed attacking sides.
He maintains that the squad are being challenged to close the gap within games in order to get the most important results come the final whistle.
“We have a style of game here that has different pressure points, one of those can be our defence but our defence in the last four to five weeks has improved enormously.
“We are starting to see the rewards in the league, with one of the highest tackle completion rates as well as some of the least amount of line breaks conceded.
“I think we’re playing much better rugby now than last year, a much more all-round team in terms of balance which has closed the margins to compare to last year.
“The most important thing is winning rugby games, we’re just trying to find that 1% in order to convert those draws or close losses into wins.
“It is frustrating but we’re not far away, we as a coaching group will keep challenging the players to grow, take responsibility and keep working incredibly hard to change those individual moments for the better.”
The arrival of the west London adversaries brings with it a new block of fixtures influenced by absences owed to the Guinness Six Nations, with Irish and Quins being no exceptions with four and six players called to international duty respectively.
Despite Irish having fared well in 2022’s first international spell where the side was defeated only once, focus remains solely on the next challenge ahead for Davis and co.
He continued: “We can’t afford to look too far ahead and must concentrate on what is in front of us.
“It will be a huge test, it’s a derby game against a well-coached, quality outfit.
“The competition is so tight from play-off places down to 10th, any team that can string a run of games together could see a huge change in the table, and vice versa too.
“It’s got to be about the performance from us, but we’re under no illusions that a few positive results could move us further up the table, and any team can beat any team.
“We’re also under no illusions of what lies ahead this Sunday, it’s up to us now to be in the hunt and build on a positive result for the remainder of the season.”
Davis offered an insight into what Irish can expect from Harlequins this weekend, a team often compared to Irish in their vivacious offensive rugby style.
“What Quins do really well is play in a certain pattern within their style, but they have a license under Tabai Matson where they play that to break the game up, and that is when they are at their most dangerous.
“They are very good footballers, they find the space and have speed on the edges to find their way through things.
“The key thing for us is to try to keep them within their shape, attack their shape through our defence and be super aware, because if they get a few offloads here and there, we have to be able to reconnect as a defensive unit to regain control.
“We have to have that urgency in our defence to go again and get set earlier as a line, because they can expose that with a speed of mind, movement, footwork, handling and the ruck, which we will have to control.
“They are a very dangerous side, a formidable outfit, but I enjoy how players like Danny Care can mix things up at the base of a ruck and Nick David seeing opportunities in broken field can have to license to go.
“It is similar to us, but we have to make it a difficult day at the office for them.”