31 January 2023
Les Kiss, London Irish Head Coach, has stated that the team “owed themselves” a performance such as Sunday afternoon’s as the Exiles beat arch rivals Harlequins 42-24.
The Round 16 Gallagher Premiership tie offered it all; with 10 tries, including a league debut hattrick from Michael Dykes, as well as stout defence, something Kiss was most pleased about.
Irish raced into a 21-0 first quarter advantage with the aid of Dykes, Chandler Cunningham-South and James Stokes, heading into the sheds 16 points to the good after the Senior Academy wing doubled his tally.
Dykes scored his third upon returning to the field before a late Tom Pearson try nulled a strong Quins showing in the second period, with the coach crediting his side’s performance on both sides of the ball.
“You never look at the past to try and avenge some things, but last time here in this fixture they were erupting with joy with their fans after a win – we owed ourselves that performance, and I thought it was bloody great!
“I’m always disappointed whenever we concede a bonus point, but we have to be real and recognise Quins are a hard team to hold out,” Kiss explained.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed, but you expect that from Quins, because they know how to get over the line and put the pressure on.
“The key for us was making sure we kept that gap in the scoreline, and I thought there was some really crucial moments where we defended our line and forced the error on them.
“There were heroic moments that really kept them at bay, we did miss opportunities up the other end, but we got there eventually.”
The unrelenting nature of the Premiership this term means that Irish wouldn’t necessarily be seen to have fully turned a corner, with every point counting in the quest for higher league places.
“Every team at different times will think they have turned a corner, but this competition will always put up another hurdle for you.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a turned corner, it’s about facing this tough competition for what it is with so many close results recently, so every point counts.
“Single points really matter to where you are in the table, and we had to make sure we got our five points by staying true to ourselves to make other teams under pressure for what they have to deliver when facing us.”
Henry Arundell and Tom Pearson, two Academy graduates, were on form against Harlequins, with the former returning from a three-month spell on the sidelines.
A duo of current Senior Academy players also shone in the spotlight of the west London derby, try-scorers Cunningham-South and Dykes.
On top of three tries, Dykes made 72 metres from six carries, five tackles and beat three defenders, whilst the loose forward accrued 11 tackles and 17 metres from five carries, as well as beating one defender.
“Chandler’s story is a rally good one, the lad is as raw as ever but is a really committed boy who wants to find out how good he can be,” Kiss commended.
“We know there are some things about his game that he’ll need to improve, he knows that too, but he can give us a lot of thrust and dynamism in attack that can find the spaces that we’re after – I was really pleased with how he did his job.
“He started last week and the discussion was do we continue that, we thought so, and I think that paid dividends.
“We’re pretty happy with our back-row stocks for sure, Tom Pearson is on fire and is going great, Matty Rogerson is a great player and does a lot of good things for us, we have a surplus of great back-rowers.”
Kiss continued to pile on the praise for the Senior Academy players and coaches at the Club, with hattrick hero Dykes one of a collection receiving their due credit.
“It’s nice to know that if you have kids coming through like Dykesy that have the confidence to take on the challenge when players like Ben Loader and Ollie Hassell-Collins are unavailable.
“He’s getting the reward for sticking at it for two years, the same goes for Ollie and Ben, who have worked on their basic skillsets.
“He knows what he is capable of and has made selection harder now, but the boy deserved what he got out of the game and it’s not by accident.
“I can’t champion enough how the Academy build these players up, Patrick O’Grady, James Lightfoot Brown and Jonathan Fisher do an exceptional job and are always involved with our training in the senior team, it makes sure their transferring of skills to the young guys is quick.”
“The thing is for Dykesy is that he worked of some really strong work in the middle, he showed his nous to stay where he needs to and not chase ghosts, those types of learnings are good for him.
“Good finishers reap the rewards of what goes on in front of them and score, having him as an option for us is fantastic.”
After a four-match winless away run in the earlier portion of the season, Irish is now unbeaten in their last five home games in domestic competition at the Gtech Community Stadium.
The Head Coach applauded the work of his squad, in particular the leadership group, for helping instil a strong sense of belief and guide the team to famous recent wins over capital rivals.
Work is still yet to be done in the eyes of Kiss, nevertheless, amongst a competitive first tier of English rugby.
He concluded: “I have to take my hat off to the lads, they haven’t lost belief and had to work hard.
“When you get knocked down a few times and have some things that are hard to take, your spirit can get broken but theirs didn’t.
“They kept turning up and tried to develop a real understanding of what belief was for them.
“Belief when you don’t get results is still staying true to your principles that you work on, our leadership group are massive in making sure players understand what that journey is.
“We could have got hijacked that we lost those tighter exchanges, but they knew the clues were there and belief is the action we do as much as the thought.
“This competition will sort you out quickly enough if you think that you are already there, but there are some important things that we recognise within our group that they kept strong.
“We know we’re not perfect, we know we have to be more effective but I think we done that at the right times.”