Defensive spirit and collective effort were what uplifted London Irish under-18s to a second Premiership Rugby Under-18 Academy League title in four years, Jack Pattinson affirmed.
The Junior Academy Lead Coach conducted the under-18s to a 27-19 win over Northampton Saints’ under-18s side in the 2022/23 first-place match on Sunday evening.
Irish’s scorers at the StoneX Stadium, Louie Heard, Kepueli Tuipulotu, Finn Worley Brady and George Goodridge, as well as a last-minute Rory Taylor penalty, ensured the title came back to Hazelwood for the first time since 2020.
Pattinson highlighted the “spirit and connection” within both the playing group and the wider Academy staff that filled the coach with confidence throughout the 70 minutes.
“It’s very surreal, and it hasn’t really sunken in yet - the boys were just terrific!” he eulogised.
“It was a tough start to the game in the opening 10 minutes, we were on the back foot but to be honest, I felt that summarised the whole season.
“The response to that opening 10 minutes showed the spirit and the connection within the group, they rallied and came back together.
“It was never in doubt in my mind, I could see that the boys had it within them and that spirit is why we won.”
Despite the valiance on display in north London from the Exiles, it was far from a comfortable ascent to the trophy lift for Irish.
Saints grabbed the first two scores of the match-up through Henry Pollock and Toby Cousins, but the efforts from Heard, Tuipulotu and Worley Brady edged Pattinson’s side in front at the interval.
The toil required from Irish out of possession to then shut out Saints to one score in the second half was what impressed the coaching ticket on the night.
“Our execution tactically and technically was very good, we made our adjustments at half-time around our defensive width to cause them a few more problems.
“The contest on the floor was massive, but underpinning all of that was the energy and emotion that was put into defence, and that was the difference.
“Again, it comes back to that brotherhood and spirit that Finn [Worley Brady] talked about pre-match that proved pivotal on the night.”
An expected response to start the second period from Saints arrived when hooker Sol Moody crossed the whitewash after half-time, but Irish’s own George Goodridge broke the deadlock less than 10 minutes later.
The remaining 25 minutes were fraught with tension and excellent work ethic from Irish, and the tie was concluded upon Rory Taylor’s match-ending, game-winning penalty kick.
The young out-half has form for clutch kicking, most notably last summer when slotting the winning three points for England under-18s in a test against South Africa, with his reputation upheld at Club level.
“It all became a bit of a blur when Rory stepped up, but it was sheer relief and pride but all the emotions came out at that moment when it went through,” Pattinson confessed.
“It’s been a long, hard season with loads of challenges throughout and I’m just delighted for the lads because they deserve that.
“They have been so committed to doing this and do it for each other, and I’m very proud to have played a small part in it.”
The triumph culminated a memorable weekend for the Club after the senior side defeated Bath Rugby away from home for the first time in 14 years, a positive sign of progression for the west Londoners at all levels.
“Hopefully it can be the first of many going forward for the Club, we have another final to play for this season so there might more to come.
“We won the Academy League three years ago with a draw and then a few years before that, but it goes to show how excellent of an Academy this Club still has.
“That’s the players coming through, but also the staff involved who are so committed and invested in this makes it a pleasure to be a part of.”
The “team behind the team”, as Pattinson puts it, were also given their due approbation from the Lead Coach for the effort put into making Irish champions once more.
“I talk a lot about the playing group, but the staff are just phenomenal, we work on being a high-performance team off the pitch as well as on it.
“They are the team behind the team, and we have that belief in abundance.
“The journey we have been on in the last 12 months has been phenomenal, we have had difficult and honest conversations in that time but we stayed together, made some changes and how that 12 months has played out is a credit to everyone behind-the-scenes.
“They’re so devoted to the work here, and that’s what makes me so proud.”