Declan Kidney has stated that his players showed a commitment to London Irish after the Exiles claimed a 17-14 victory over Exeter Chiefs to draw the 2022/23 campaign to a close.
The second of Juan Martín González’s tries arrived less than 10 minutes from time on the day and eventually saw the west Londoners through a tense affair at the Gtech Community Stadium.
Amidst a build-up where off-field matters dominated conversation, the Director of Rugby instead shone a light on the exemplary behaviour of all associated with the Club as Irish worked towards the season finale.
After the final whistle blew, the matchday 23 were joined by the wider playing squad, as well as the off-field team, to give a rendition of ‘Maybe It’s Because I’m An Irish Londoner’ on the pitch, a “real show of what we are about”, in the eyes of Kidney.
“For us, it’s about giving everything,” he began.
“We haven’t had a lot of gametime in the last six weeks since the St. Patrick’s Day match, so for the boys to do everything they have done under all the things that have been going on, I can’t speak highly enough of them.
“That includes both on and off the field, it shows their personal commitment to London Irish.
“We didn’t have a big meeting beforehand to motivate the players, they went and did it because they wanted to.
“We wanted to get the supporters involved and have the off-field team to send off this season at the end, it was a real show of what we were about and everyone got a taste of that today.
“I’ve never seen a fight for fifth mean so much for people, and that’s just the start for us.”
The result confirmed Irish’s standing of fifth in the 2022/23 Gallagher Premiership, the first time the Club have breached into the top six since 2011 and their highest overall finish in 14 years.
Kidney told of how the significance of the win went beyond breaking records and four points.
“For the year’s work, I’m delighted for everybody in the organisation.
“We’ve always said we would try and win as many moments as we can, and the league table would look after itself.
“For some it might not be much, but to finish off the ‘best of the rest’ means a great deal given where we come from.
“Like every Club, there were many, many challenges we had to overcome, some more recently than others, but how the boys, the coaches, the Strength & Conditioning team all conducted themselves allowed us to stay on track in training.
“It has affected everyone, we had to hold certain sections of the stadium due to lack of stewards but that’s a huge credit to people who are under the same pressure as players to get the crowd in.
“You see the measure of people in adversity, I said to the lads that they wouldn’t understand the importance of the result until after the match, it’s the first time we’ve been home to see out a season in a while.
“These lads were always going to play this weekend, that’s how much the Club means to them and this is the end of a season’s work, not just a day’s work.”
On a testing afternoon from the tee and under the high ball, Irish got the result over the line in what was their first league win by five points or less this year.
For a team that so often has come out on the reverse side of narrow encounters (Irish gained seven losing bonus points in the 2022/23 season), Saturday’s result was a welcome sea change to see out the year.
An evident growth in mindset was on display from the Exiles team, Kidney deduced.
He continued: “We can win ugly, bit also win smartly.
“At the start of the year we weren’t getting those wins, and I think today we showed the learnings we took on from those wins, particularly towards the end of the match.
“A lot is made of the last 10 minutes of a match, but that was a whole season in those last few minutes.
“We pride on ourselves a lot on where we’ve come from to now be the best of the rest, it’s a good position and a confidence-booster heading into the offseason.”
Heading into the encounter, Irish maintained the highest tackling percentage in the league (90%) and such famed solidity off the ball held up in their match-up against Chiefs.
On an afternoon that Chiefs recorded a 60/40 split in both possession and territory, fronting up against the West Country visitors also pleased the boss.
“That’s what Exeter do, if they get the territory then they’re going to hold onto the ball.
“They’re a difficult pack to beat, but we had a big defensive effort today that stood us well.
“Looking at the goal-line defence showed that, Exeter often come away with big points from those positions but we stood up stoutly.
“To do that after not a lot of rugby, it really came from the heart and I’m delighted we got the return for it.”
As the Irishman saw out his fifth season in charge at the Club, he assured his team are making headway in continuing on the progress seen through an unforgettable campaign.
“I know we’re heading in the right direction.
“We’re the professional arm of a Club with a 124-year history, and with that will come some swings but these lads have come up from the Championship and improved year-on-year.
“You can’t ask any more from them, especially with our age profile of the squad, they’re young and they’re learning.
“We can only control what we can control, and we’re planning for a rich future with these boys.
“We didn’t win a senior trophy but I believe we had a very successful year, we’ve had to deal with a lot of things but we’re going to build on the success.”