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Feature interview with Josh Basham
Media View by Joe Harvey
It’s Premiership Rugby Cup semi-final week and with it brings an extra pinch of excitement as knock-out rugby return to the Gtech Community Stadium.
Academy graduate Josh Basham is relishing the opportunity to get back out there and the feeling mutual amongst his teammates.
“It’s been easy to put the intent and excitement behind our training sessions this week,” said Basham.
“The boys can’t wait for some knockout rugby. We are focusing on ourselves and how we can bring an impact into the game and therefore take control of the match.”
Basham returned to London Irish in the summer after two years with Newcastle Falcons and is loving his time back in the capital.
“I’m really enjoying it,” he explained.
“I think the way we play suits me; the coaching suits me. It made it all so much easier for me to fit back in. This is probably the most that I’ve enjoyed my rugby in my career so far.
“I’m getting the most out of my experiences with a great group of people. The environment if fantastic and I’ve found it so easy to fit in since my return to the Club in the summer. It’s been a good fit and I’ve loved every second since coming back.”
Throughout the 2022/23 Premiership Rugby Cup, the coaching trio of Declan Danaher, James Lightfoot Brown, and Jonathan Fisher have taken more of a leadership role when it comes to the running of the team. This is something that means a great deal to Basham.
“They’ve been around the Club for years, including in my first stint at the Club. Declan Danaher was my London Irish U15’s coach, so along with James Lightfoot Brown and Jonathan Fisher, they’ve been a part of my journey for years.
“Coaches who have been engrained in an environment for that long really care about the place and pour their heart into the project. This week, we’ve had a good week of training and part of that is down to the energy and commitment from those coaches. It really filters down to the players and we feed off the energy that they provide.”
Josh is set to make his 19th appearance for London Irish in tonight’s Premiership Rugby Cup clash, and the pride he has in every appearance hasn’t wavered.
“I have a massive sense of pride when I get to represent the Club, especially alongside some of the players that I came through the Academy with. It brings a level of togetherness in the squad when you get to play with your close friends and be coached by the coaches that have helped you progress for years.
“It’s a natural togetherness within this squad, especially when you play with other Academy graduates. I’ve known Jack Cooke, Ben Loader, Matt Williams, Jacob Atkins, and many more for a long, long time. It’s a special opportunity whenever I get the chance to take to the field with them.”
The competition for places is high across the board but none so more than the back row. However, Josh only sees this as a positive as he looks to continue his developments on the pitch with the help of his teammates.
“The back row, as a unit, put it on ourselves as an energy driver for the whole team. We try and lift the rest of the pack who are putting in the hard yards in front of us and give the backs the space to do what they can do.
“It’s a young group, but one that’s competitive and very ambitious as well. It’s all very supportive in that nature, it’s very beneficial for everyone. When I play, I know I have the full support of the other players in the back row positions, whether they are playing or not. Likewise, I will do the same for them. I have complete trust in whoever wears the shirt on the weekend. I have a great opportunity to learn from the brilliant players that we have at the Club, it’s exciting.”
Northampton Saints are tonight’s visitors and head into the match with the same ambition as Irish, progression to the final. So, what does Josh expect from the midlands outfit?
“They always bring a massive attacking threat. They are a team that play quick rugby and like to move the ball about really well. They are highly skilled, so we will have to be switched on defensively for the whole match.
“It’s also about; can we score more points that them? So, we will look to impose our attacking prowess on them. We know we are fully capable of doing that, so we need to put it into action. We want to build on the momentum that we have picked up from recent games.”
Club: Northampton Saints
Stadium: cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens
Director of Rugby: Phil Dowson
2021/22 position: 4th
Northampton Saints are tonight’s visitors for the semi-final of the Premiership Rugby Cup.
Local rivalries were on the agender for both sides in their last outings, with London Irish hosting Harlequins and Saints making the trip to Leicester Tigers. The Exiles picked up a 42-24 victory over Quins, with Northampton getting the better of Leicester in a close-fought 18-19 clash, meaning both sides head into tonight’s cup contest with good domestic form under their belts.
The visitors took the spoils in the first encounter between today’s sides on Saturday 17 September in Round 2 of the Gallagher Premiership, a 38-22 scoreline favouring the midlands side. 10 days later, Irish got their own back in the Premiership Rugby Cup with a last minute try to secure a 28-26 win.
Northampton Saints exited the Heineken Champions Cup having only managed to pick up one point, a losing bonus point in their trip to Munster. Loses against the Irish province and Stade Rochelais, both home and away, meant that Saints dropped out of the competition, and, like the Exiles, missed out on Challenge Cup places.
Over the recent encounters across both the Gallagher Premiership and Premiership Rugby Cup, Northampton have won three out of the last five contests.
One to watch: Ollie Sleightholme
Beginning his rugby career as a six-year-old at Northampton Old Scouts, Ollie Sleightholme signed on with the Senior Academy at Northampton Saints ahead of the 2018/19 season after being a part of the set-up at Saints from the age of 13.
Following in the footsteps of his father, Saints legend Jon, the fast-footed winger had impressed for Saints' Under-18s, Premiership Rugby 7s side and in the 2018 Mobbs Memorial Match before earning a full-time contract.
The winger made his first-team debut against Bristol Bears in the Premiership Rugby Cup before taking just 15 seconds to score his first Northampton try on his Gallagher Premiership debut against Wasps, as he finished his breakthrough season with seven tries in his many appearances.
Sleightholme made ten appearances for Saints the following term, adding another three tries to his tally along the way, before playing his most rugby in a season to date during 2020/21 – crossing the whitewash an impressive nine times in 12 games, including a sensation quad of tries against Worcester Warriors.
He made a further 15 appearances in the 2021/22 season as Saints qualified for the Premiership semi-finals, while he was also joined in the Club’s senior ranks by his younger brother Frankie, another who was quick to make an impact in the try-scoring stakes.
Sleightholme earned a silver medal with England Sevens during the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Games in the Bahamas and represented his country at Under-18 and Under-20 level – playing in the 2019 World Rugby U20 Championship – with only an injury stopping the winger from earning a first senior cap following a call-up to a summer training camp in 2021.
To date, Sleightholme has made 55 appearances for Northampton, scoring 135 points.
Director of Rugby: Phil Dowson
After a hugely successful playing career at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens, back-row Phil Dowson hung up his boots at the end of the 2016/17 season to join Northampton Saints’ coaching set-up.
Initially arriving in 2009 from Newcastle Falcons, Dowson made a total of 186 appearances for the Club, and scored 28 tries in Black, Green and Gold.
Following a two-year stint with Worcester Warriors to round off his playing career, he returned to join the first-team set-up at Franklin’s Gardens as assistant coach at the beginning of the 2017/18 season.
But after impressing that term in his new coaching role, new director of rugby Chris Boyd entrusted Dowson with marshalling Saints’ forwards at the beginning of the 2018/19 campaign. He coached an England XV that faced the Barbarians in June 2019.
In January 2022, the Club announced that Dowson would be succeeding Boyd as Director of Rugby ahead of the start of the 2022/23 season.
Into The Archives: London Irish 37-20 Northampton Saints – LV Cup: London Irish beat Northampton Saints to keep slim LV Cup hopes alive with a 37-20 victory at the Madejski Stadium.
London Irish ran in five tries to defeat holders Northampton and claim their first LV Cup win of the season.
Hooker Brian Blaney scored his first two tries for Irish to help the hosts to an 18-6 half-time lead.
After Blaney was sin binned for being offside, Saints cut the arrears through Brett Sharman’s try, only for George Stowers to restore the Exiles advantage.
Steffon Armitage and Daniel Bowden put the Exiles out of sight before Scott Armstrong’s late consolation score.
Tries: Brian Blarney (2), George Stowers, Steffon Armitage, Daniel Bowden
Conversions: Ryan Lamb (3)
Penalties: Ryan Lamb (2)
Tries: Brett Sharman, Scott Armstrong
Conversions: Joe Ford, Glyn Hughes
Penalties: Joe Ford (2)
On The Road: Leicester Tigers 18-19 Northampton Saints – 28th January 2023 – Gallagher Premiership: Northampton Saints claimed a one-point victory over rivals Leicester Tigers thanks to a second-half try from Ollie Sleightholme.
A try from winger Harry Potter and a penalty from the boot of Handre Pollard put the Tigers 10-9 up at half-time, with George Furbank kicking all of Saints nine points from penalties.
Furbank put Northampton into the lead with another penalty in the second half, with the lead changing twice more as Potter grabbed his second try of the day and Ollie Sleightholme scoring Saints’ first of the match.
A Burns penalty in his final game set up a tense finish, but Saints hung on.
Tries: Harry Potter (2)
Conversions: Handre Pollard
Penalties: Handre Pollard, Freddie Burns
Tries: Ollie Sleightholme
Conversions: George Furbank
Penalties: George Furbank (4)
While it’s possible that Ollie Hassell-Collins, Henry Arundell, Ben White, Danilo Fischetti and Luca Morisi will all be in Guinness Six Nations action across the weekend, these next three days of rugby start tonight at the Gtech Community Stadium.
Last season, the Premiership Rugby Cup was the London Irish’s major shot at a first piece of silverware since the Powergen Cup all the way back in 2002. Making it all the way to the final last season, it was Worcester Warriors that ultimately won the game, although it was confusingly because they had scored more tries in the game.
Once again it is the Prem Cup that provides a chance for the Exiles to finish a campaign with fond memories, while the side is also just two points from playoff contention in the Gallagher Premiership. With no game played over the first weekend in February, there is a good chance that some first team regulars may well make their way onto the pitch to play Northampton Saints.
Similarly to Irish, Saints sat watching on last weekend and could field an experienced side in West London with the hopes of making it to the final in March. It makes for a particularly exciting encounter, with Declan Kidney’s side still riding the wave of their dominant win over Harlequins last time out.
There is a cliché when you get to the knockout stages – “Anything can happen”.
It makes for a special atmosphere and is where the best memories are made. Whichever side steps out onto the field knows how important it would be to their club to make a final.
We saw what it meant to Worcester last year when they won, those memories now sadly seeming far more dimly lit with what transpired in the West Midlands in the months that followed.
It’s both fair, and an understatement, to say that this will be exciting. Nothing short of a win will do, and both teams know it.
I would say sit back and relax as the rugby gets going, but with everything on the line, it would be a surprise if you ended your evening with fingernails.