London Irish Director of Rugby Declan Kidney has expressed that his side will have to meet Sale Sharks “head on” when Alex Sanderson’s men travel to the capital in the Gallagher Premiership.
The Round 20 encounter sees fifth-place Irish host Sale Sharks this Sunday, a side perennially challenging for the first seed in the top tier this term.
Following on from two draws in the 2021/22 campaign, Kidney and co. will be acutely aware of the difficulty posed by Sale, who put the Exiles to the sword in Manchester with a 37-14 victory at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Since that evening in October, however, Irish’s season has blossomed with the ushering in of a new calendar year, with Kidney disclosing the atmosphere currently surrounding the Club.
“We’re enjoying one another’s company at the moment, we know we’re at the stage of the year where all the matches are big for every team in all competitions,” he said.
“Any talk of anything beyond the regular season hasn’t been mentioned, all you have to do is look at games played and the top five have an extra game played – we’d be foolish to go down that line already.
“We were slow to get started, we have still lost more than we have won but picking up points in most games has led to where we are today.
“This week is a massive task after the journey from Newcastle, Sale had a huge win over Saracens over the weekend and are one of two teams we have played this season that we didn’t get any points out of.
“We have to meet that challenge head on, there’s no running away from it.”
A continuation of Irish’s storming form on the field saw them pick up a fourth successive win when facing Newcastle Falcons in Round 19, their first successive away league win in three years.
The Boys in Green had to toil to pick up five hugely beneficial points in light of a Newcastle fightback, a sign of positive development in the eyes of the rugby management.
“We felt that a good start was important, Newcastle had done a great job in cultivating a strong atmosphere up there so we had to get in behind them early.
“Thankfully things went well for us at the start, going 19-0 up, but then a few things crept into our game that we can do a little bit better and Newcastle took full advantage of that.
“To have the composure to settle down and get our way back into things certainly showed the growth within our team.”
The match-up at Kingston Park also saw the reintroduction of Ollie Hassell-Collins to the Exiles fold for the first time since 22nd January, dotting down as one of five scorers on Tyneside.
“He loved playing his first two games with England, he probably didn’t get his hands on the ball as much as he’d hoped, but that’s Ollie, he just loves playing with the ball in his hands!
“The attitude he had turning up to work on the last day and scoring another good try, you have to have confidence beating a man the way he did.
“He’s disappointed he didn’t make the England squad this week, he’s mad keen to be involved again but the way he has knuckled down to work just as much of the rest of us is a great sign of a professional.”
Hassell-Collins could well be in the mix for this weekend against the force of Sale Sharks, where an appearance would take him up to a century of games in a London Irish jersey.
With four wins from their last five league outings, Irish are riding high but have not won against Sunday’s opponents since April 2015, a chapter the side will be desperate to close this weekend.
Despite their league positioning, Sale’s form has seen them pick up one win in three league games and one win in five in all competitions, but a landmark win over Saracens last weekend will serve as strong impetus for the Mancunians.
Kidney explained: “They played really well [against Saracens] and that would be a huge confidence booster as well to any side, they’ll be full of determination then too coming to us and will be striving for that first spot.
“These are the games you want to get yourself into and test ourselves, they won’t be missing to many either so they will approach it fully equipped.
“There were two good games last year, but because of the work done by the boys last year they have been getting more recognition and teams have become more prepared.
“Every point won we’ve had to work for, there have been no gimmies.
“They are a physical side but again, you can’t run away from it, it’s difficult enough to run through it and they are very proud in how they go about their business.
“We have to stay in the fight with them.”
Looking to avenge the fortunes suffered in the reverse fixture five months ago, the Director of Rugby warned that despite Irish having lost just two home Premiership home games this season, nothing will be taken for granted against Sanderson’s Sharks.
“Our last home match was against Leicester, there are many similarities in how they and Sale play, but Sale will come perhaps even more fully loaded in terms of personnel.
“We’ve learned things over the last couple of years to concentrate on what is ahead of us in the moment, and if we were to deviate from that, we would be letting ourselves and our supporters down.
“It’s important to win as many key moments as possible on Sunday and going forward.
“We enjoy playing in Brentford, like many teams, but it doesn’t guarantee us anything, as we have seen in our last match.”