The last two weeks have seen London Irish push two of the Premiership’s biggest teams close, however both times falling just short of famous victories.
The Exiles faced back to back fixtures against the two Midlands powerhouses Northampton Saints and Leicester Tigers, both times picking up losing bonus points in games they could have realistically taken all the points.
Not the results London Irish wanted but one major positive to take from the two games is the return of Alex Lewington from injury. Lewington has been one of London Irish’s stand out performers this season with five Premiership tries; three in a hat trick against Saracens.
After four weeks out with a foot injury Lewington made his return against Northampton from the bench. The following week a late withdrawal of Fergus Mulchrone through injury saw Lewington moved into the starting line-up where he was one of the stand out players despite it being a forward dominated match in wet, windy conditions against Leicester.
“It was really good to get back out there,” Lewington said. “I wasn’t supposed to be starting but Fergus (Mulchrone) picked up an injury.
“It was great to start the game and get settled early on, and obviously coming back the week before where I got 20 off the bench against Northampton it was a bit less frantic coming into the game.”
Having to spend time of the side-lines is a frustrating time for players, but Lewington is quick to praise both the new medical team and facilities at London Irish’s new state-of-the-art home, Hazelwood, which he says made a huge difference in his speedy return to action.
“All the rehab was really good,” he continued. “The physios looked after me really well. Obviously part of that is them trusting you to do your extras so I was really proactive about that and getting all of it done.
“I was just desperate to get back for these games and our target was to get on the bench last week against Northampton and we hit the target so that was really good.
“It is tough being side-lined and having to watch the boys go out. You want them to do well and when they do you want to be a part of it so it’s hard being injured and I really do sympathise with the guys who get longer injures than I had.”
His first start back, versus Leicester, saw the Tigers win 12 – 6, a game in which it was the Exiles who looked more threatening throughout.
“It was really disappointing,” Lewington admitted. “Obviously Leicester came with a mind-set of disrupting us at the breakdown and kicking for the corners and squeezing the pressure.
“I guess effectively that is what won them the game. For us, we wanted to play a bit more rugby, which we did, and we did create opportunities but we should have taken at least one of them. If we had we could have been winners of the game.
“It is always disappointing, especially when you lose within that bonus point range and one score could have swung it. It is tough to take on the chin but we have just got to look forward to this week now.”
And this week London Irish face a trip to the Kassam Stadium and London Welsh, who will be viewing this game as a huge opportunity to claim their first win of the season; a fact not lost on Lewington.
“We are expecting them to be extremely pumped up for the game and we will expect them to be extremely aggressive; especially the first twenty minutes.
“It will be up to us to match that and that is the key to the game. If we win the physicality battle I am sure we will come out on top in the game. If we match fire with fire then hopefully the result will take care of itself.”