9 February 2023
Fixture: London Irish vs Northampton Saints
Competition: Premiership Rugby Cup, semi-final
Date: 10th February 2023
Venue: Gtech Community Stadium
Officials: Referee: Sara Cox, AR1: Alex Thomas, AR2: Mike Woods, No4: Jonathan Cook, TMO: Stuart Tereheege, Timekeeper: John Burtenshaw, Citing Officer: Dave Guyan (remote)
London Irish is seeking a second consecutive final berth in the Premiership Rugby Cup this Friday evening when Northampton Saints arrive at the Gtech Community Stadium.
The Exiles progressed to their first cup final as a Premiership side in 20 years last term, missing out on silverware by way of least amount of tries scored on the night in a 25-25 draw against Worcester Warriors.
Friday’s opponents previously met this season in both a league and cup capacity; Saints emerging victorious in a 38-22 win in the Midlands, whilst Irish won 28-26 in the pool stages of the Premiership Rugby Cup.
A last-minute penalty try clinched a famous win for the Academy-laden Exiles, six current Senior Academy players and seven graduates aiding in attaining up the try bonus victory less than two weeks after the league loss.
That win was one of four victories for the west Londoners in the pool stages, becoming the first side to achieve 20 points from an available 20 since the inception of the Premiership Cup in 2018.
Northampton progressed out of Pool 3 alongside Irish, their only taste of defeat coming in Brentford as they achieved maximum points against Saracens, Harlequins and Newcastle Falcons.
James Grayson (27), Rory Jennings (24) and Joel Matavesi (22) are all in the top 10 of points scorers in the tournament, whilst four tries each for Courtnall Skosan and Michael Dykes situates them in the top 10 try scorers in the 2022/23 competition.
Despite Phil Dowson’s men having won two of their last eight outings, they come into the semi-final on a bounce after a derby day victory, just as Irish are, as the Franklin’s Gardens side beat Leicester Tigers 19-18, whilst Irish conquered Harlequins 42-24.
After Irish picked up their first cup lift in 2002 against Saints, the latter would go on to win their first three domestic cup wins in the 2007/08, 2009/10 and 2018/19 seasons.
The Clubs have met four times in cup tournaments since Irish’s cup win 21 years ago with Northampton winning twice, including a 38-9 win in the 2003 semi-final.
The Boss- Phil Dowson:
Phil Dowson ascended to the Director of Rugby position before the beginning of the current season, succeeding Chris Boyd with Sam Vesty also moving up to the role of Head Coach.
The 41-year-old has long been a part of Saints’ history, particularly when picking up silverware, attaining the Premiership, Heineken Cup, Challenge Cup, and also captaining the 2009/10 Anglo-Welsh Cup winning team.
He made playing 186 appearances for Northampton, finishing off his playing career with Worcester Warriors at the end of the 2016/17 season where he then joined Northampton Saints’ coaching team.
One to Watch – James Grayson:
James Grayson made his return to action over the past weekend for Bedford Blues, lining up for the Club in a 38-17 Championship Cup victory over London Scottish after three months on the sidelines from foot surgery.
He will have his return as a Saints player this Friday at the Gtech, engineering play from the 10 shirt for the East Midlands side with captain Callum Braley his half-back partner.
The 24-year-old, son of former Saints great Paul Grayson, has played in three of four of this season’s Premiership Rugby Cup games, amassing a collective 27 points against capital sides Saracens, Harlequins and London Irish.
A product of the Saints Academy, Grayson made his senior debut in the 2017/18 season and was awarded his first contract ahead of the 2019/20 campaign, since registering an impressive haul of 571 points for his boyhood Club.
Grayson was awarded the first Breakthrough Player award in the Premiership Rugby Cup, doing so in the process of winning Saints their first trophy in five years in the 2018/19 season.
The out-half, who has been capped at under-17, under-18 and under-20 age-grade level for England, will bring capable handling and foresight to the semi-final encounter.
Classic Encounter- London Irish 38-7 Northampton Saints – 20 April 2002 – Powergen Cup final
London Irish ended a 104-year silverware drought on their most famous day, defeating Northampton Saints 38-7 in the 2002 Powergen Cup final at Twickenham Stadium.
75,000 supporters, with a healthy percentage of them part of the Exile Nation, were there to witness the convincing win on the biggest stage as Geoff Appleford opened the scoring.
Appleford would complete a brace in the second half to decide the encounter, intercepting play in Irish’s own half to race away with Justin Bishop too chipping in with a try brace with his iconic one-handed celebration.
Michael Horak, scoring a try of his own, complemented Barry Everitt’s 13 points on the afternoon to etch their names into Club history at HQ.
Northampton Saints Director of Rugby Phil Dowson underlined the value of his players’ understanding of the Club’s on-field approach after a victory over Leicester Tigers in the Gallagher Premiership.
"The key is having guys in the squad who have a clear understanding of the game plan and what you want to do and also have a clear understanding of what their role is within that.
"I thought the guys that stepped in this week have been absolutely outstanding to make sure our application to the plan and to make sure that performance that goes out on the pitch is outstanding.
Dowson also credited his men’s effort off the ball in order to open up avenues once going forward against their arch-rivals in the Midlands.
"We've not been good away from home,” he admitted.
“In this league, where it's really competitive, you're not going to blow sides away, so what you need to do is be really full-on in what you're doing defensively.
"Then you don't have to really force anything and, when a bit of space opens up, you have to trust your quality."