Assistant Forwards Coach Ross McMillan credits the incremental improvements within training at the Hazelwood Centre as one of the reasons to London Irish’s growth throughout the 2022/23 season.
A greater understanding amongst the players of each other, through both positive and negative results, is seen as the catalyst to an improvement in standards, the coach believes.
Last weekend was no exception, with a Premiership Rugby Under-18 Academy League title attained and a first win at the Recreation Ground picked up, the performances of the Club across the board are undeniably rising.
Reflecting on the watershed week, McMillan looks back on the achievements of both the senior and Academy set-ups.
“When you come out of a game like that with a few scrum penalties and frees, then you can take a lot from that against a side like Bath,” he stated.
“But most importantly, we won the game.
“This group is special, and it’s about looking at the next game in the schedule and that was the Academy League final, which some of the boys went down to support.
“We enjoy our wins and make sure we celebrate them, but as it stands, we are not in a position to always carry that on and we must focus on the task in hand.
“We actually looked back at some of the under-18s game, they scrummed really well and it was good for them to get that win.
“We have young lads in our programme that we have spent a lot of time invested in, so they deserve that reward.”
As is always the case at Irish, youth within the Club is afforded a shot on the biggest stage as Tarek Haffar was awarded his Premiership debut against Bath.
McMillan divulges the nurturing environment that Academy prospects are welcomed into in order to establish a thriving domain of youth and experience.
“You have to respect the work that is done across the board, and that goes both ways from coaches and players.
“Gone are the days of age being the determining factor in your experience in what you can bring to the party, it’s about your quality.
“It works for us because we trust the people in our programme to play the way we want, and bring their own flavour.
“It’s massively important that we have growth from within, from both our Academy and our senior guys.
“Front-row guys like Tarek [Haffar] come through, and Oliver Hoskins and Lovejoy Chawatama have been with us since we have been promoted and have that Championship experience to help the young guys.
“What Gus Creevy he can provide as a player and person is immeasurable, he’s a constant for us and his talents are vast, but he’ll be first to say it’s about us as a group.
“Of course, I’m a bit jealous he can still do what he can do at his age, he’s like a fine wine!”
Alongside Sale Sharks, Irish picked up the most points across the division in the last five Premiership games (18).
As well as the aforementioned Academy title, potential for more silverware lies on the horizon with the Premiership Rugby Cup as the Boys in Green rumble on through the campaign.
A short-term, micro focus is employed by the team to make sure that consistency is maintained throughout the remaining months of the campaign.
“We’re playing with confidence, enjoying our rugby and enjoying Monday to Friday.
“Ultimately, you want to express yourself come the weekend and there is that buzz that Matt [Rogerson] talked about throughout the Club.
“We have things to look forward to at all levels of the Club through the 18s, the Prem Cup and the league, but we know where we need to be in honing in on the next challenge.
“We’ve learnt a lot about each other throughout different results this season, we always expect more from each other and it’s about winning certain components and moments, even within training, so that we can build together.
“It’s really shining in our training in recent weeks.”
Leicester Tigers is the next challenge awaiting London Irish, with a first Saturday fixture under the lights setting the stage for what will be a gripping Round 18 tie.
The finely poised encounter, with Tigers three places and one point behind the Exiles, will see the Exiles look to avenge a closely-fought, 33-31 reverse to the reigning champions last November.
McMillan believes it’s about the personal expectations his squad can match this weekend that takes principle when playing the East Midlands side he lined up for in his playing career.
“I think we know what we can expect from Leicester, it’s about what we can expect from ourselves.
“We want to play with that same intensity and enthusiasm as all season.
“People say the happiest animal can be the goldfish because of their memory, but we must remember that across the season, performances on the whole have been pleasing.
“The thing for us is to be enjoying our rugby and pushing ourselves, and that’s what I and the coaches look for regardless of the opposition.
“The players are fully aware of what the picture looks like, but we always make sure that we go out to play first.
“Leicester arrives in Brentford as the league winners and remain in that mould, we will respect them like everybody else and we look forward to taking on that challenge.”