16 March 2023
Academy Forwards Coach Jonathan Fisher has stated that London Irish is not taking their position in the Premiership Rugby Cup final for granted as they prepare to take on Exeter Chiefs this Sunday.
The Exiles progressed to a second consecutive final berth this term as the first side to achieve 20 points from 20 in the Premiership Cup pool stages, conquering Pool 3 opponents Northampton Saints once more in the semi-final.
Former Irish back-rower Fisher also voiced that his team are looking to “roll their sleeves up” against a physical Exeter side, on an occasion he believes the Exile Nation “fully deserve” for their continued support this season.
The coach reflected on the development of the youthful elements of the Club that have played a hand in winning the Premiership Rugby Under-18 Academy League title and sealing qualification for the cup final.
“We’re excited, the group of players that have played in this competition have enjoyed themselves and represented the Club well throughout,” Fisher commented.
“We’re going to pick a team that’s ready and prepared to take what could be a very important win come this weekend.
“As a team, they have performed in a way that would be consistent with those playing in the Premiership each week.
“They have been threatening with the ball, been repeatedly resilient defensively and most importantly, when the big moments in games present themselves, they have shown what it takes to get the job done.
“That would also be represented in the age-grade groups in the Club, a lot of coaches and support staff work incredibly hard to help with that, so as a coach, I am incredibly pleased.
“A lot of the guys playing in the game this weekend I have coached since they were 16 or 17, and that London Irish style of play, the Exiles way, has been pretty prevalent and well embedded in the way they want to play the game from an early age.”
One of the standard-bearers of Academy representation in the matchday squad in recent years is Jack Cooke, who has also captained the cup team to a consecutive final berth.
The talented loose forward, equally adept in the second-row, has played every single available minute in the 2022/23 cup campaign as a linchpin of Irish’s consistent side in the knockout tournament.
From Fisher’s perspective, Cooke embodies the mentality he and the coaches have tried to impart on the junior elements of the Club since Fisher re-joined the Club in 2017.
“As a coach, you are always trying to sell a vision and are trying to engage the group from a young age in a vision where they play together and win together in a London Irish jersey.
“We have a great sense of transparency between coaching and playing groups in this competition, but honestly, that’s necessary to improve chances of decision-making in tough moments.
“Jack [Cooke] adds value culturally to the team, he’s someone people appreciate will always give the best account of himself in the intangible aspects of the game that rely on mentality, work ethic and commitment.
“He’s someone that you want to be out there with, he’s confrontational and in and around the set-piece, he gives you opportunities to win the ball in putting a lot of pressure on lineouts.
“Having a playing group go out there knowing that regardless of the outcome, they are backed to the hill by the coaching group contributes to more confidence.”
“The reality is that this generation of players probably don’t pay too much attention to the history, and are far more invested in creating their own sense of history for London Irish,” Fisher said of the current crop of Exiles.
The encouraging viewpoint sees a new generation of youth determined to stake their claim in the history books, with the 34-year-old assuring that motivation will not be an issue for a fixture such as this weekend’s.
Fisher’s comments before Irish’s 30-18 semi-final victory over Saints captured a microcosm of his personable and efficacious coaching philosophy, where he relayed the importance of pulling on the green jersey.
Similar sentiments have been projected this week, but the “paramount” message will be that of a performance to be proud of from his squad and not resting on laurels, despite Irish’s winning form in 2023.
“My playing career wasn’t as long or successful as I would have liked through injury, so I try to coach and prepare the lads for when those opportunities do come along to recognise that it is a privilege to play for this Club.
“They will be mindful that this really is one to go out and grab, but the main message will be the strength of the performance will be paramount.
“It’s an enjoyable period currently, everyone who works at this Club and all the players too, this is the position we have wanted to be in for a really long period of time now.
“The reality is the work has gone in for the last four, five years for us to be in this position, so nobody is taking it for granted.
“I feel we are at a point where we have developed the core aspects of our game repeatedly over time, and we have been through some pain as well as a collective and individually too.
“We have risen through those challenges of the last few years and we are playing with a confidence, we have cohesion, and we have individuals playing some of their best rugby at the moment.
“I’m not someone that wants to coach for London Irish and get excited about the fact that we’ve won a few games consistently, everyone at the organisation wants to make sure that we make a statement.”
The west Londoners have now entered the final stages of preparation for a first meeting with Exeter in a domestic final, in what is the first meeting of the sides in cup competition in over 22 years.
Fisher has prepared the Exiles’ pack this week for what promises to be an “aggressive” matchup that awaits the hosts this Sunday.
The coach explicated on what London Irish can expect from their opponents in the 2022/23 Premiership Rugby Cup final.
“We have a very, very successful team in Chiefs coming to Brentford who are going to have a lot of different threats in different areas, which will primarily be our focus rather than the party.
“The storyline to it being St. Patrick’s weekend and an important few weeks may seem attractive and engaging, but the reality is that there are key contests in this game that are going to require us to be at our very best.
“Any Exeter side will make you work when they have the ball, they are a team that are very threatening and confrontational when they get close to your line.
“They’re also a team that are very, very aggressive when you have the ball with the line speed they bring.
“We’re expecting to be under pressure at certain moments, especially in their power carries to create momentum, but we’re looking forward to rolling our sleeves up and giving a good account of ourselves.”
Another important component that will play its part in the tie is the 16th man, the Exile Nation, who Fisher applauded for their support of his side this term.
“The lads will be looking at getting the job done in those key areas, and if we are able to perform to a level, then I think how vocal and supportive our home crowd have been will make a difference.
“It’s certainly something I have felt recently, it does feel different and it’s starting to grow.
“Winning certainly helps, we also have a core collective of players who have been together for a long period of time and a senior playing group who are performing at a high, consistent level.
“We have successive homegrown players coming into the team and adding huge value to the team, giving it new angle with which it can attack opposition players with.
“I think the connection between the supporter base and the playing group is improving exponentially.
“They [the fans] deserve this occasion; they have supported the Club for a long period of time and it does feel like a proper rugby atmosphere when we turn up to Brentford.
“I would implore them to bring their friends, family and get stuck in, because the boys are preparing to do them proud.”