Speaking ahead of the visit of west London counterparts Harlequins, vice-captain Rob Simmons has described the charged atmosphere in Sunbury as London Irish ready themselves for derby day.

Declan Kidney’s side return to Gallagher Premiership action in Round 16 for an appetising encounter with Quins, looking to bounce back from a European exit at the hands of Montpellier Hérault last week.

The current psyche of Irish, Simmons reveals, has “parked” the block of Heineken Champions Cup action in order to fully concentrate on this Sunday’s game.

He also anticipates a typically vibrant showing from the TW2 side, whose offensive threat will be present “all around the park”, according to the Wallaby centurion.

With a big week of retaining services at the Hazelwood Centre before the arrival of Quins, Simmons first commented on Lovejoy Chawatama extending his stay as an Exile.

“As a person, he is a top guy and is crucial for this Club – he is in every bit of our culture,” Simmons praised.

“He is a loud voice in the group, provides energy for the team and that’s why everyone loves him, not to mention being the king of the barbecue!

“That emulates what he does on the field, he makes sure he owns the scrum and we get behind him every time.”

The Boys in Green are back in the Premiership for their second home league encounter in 2023, hoping to extend a four-game unbeaten domestic streak at the Gtech Community Stadium.

Despite a winless run upon return to the Heineken Champions Cup, the Club’s time in the premier European knockout tournament has emphasised a need of consistency across 80 minutes for the 33-year-old.

“When you look at the big picture, it is very frustrating as we had a clear job in front of us to stay alive in European competition.

“From the whole squad, and especially the guys getting a first taste of it, there is a motivation to get back there and really mix it with those Clubs.

“There have been moments across those games that have shown that we know how to play against these sides, but the biggest learning has been how important that every moment is, there’s no coasting into a game and there have been times where we have been caught out clutching at shadows.”

A match-up against the Exiles’ historic rivals will be an intense re-introduction to domestic life, but the energy shared on the training paddock has been a focused one with all eyes on Quins.

Simmons has underlined how the compact nature of the 2022/23 Gallagher Premiership entering the second half of the campaign has made for an exciting product, with Sunday’s teams being no exception.

“For as long as I have been a part of this team, the west London derby has always been tasty.

“We haven’t talked too much about bouncing back from last week, it’s already done and parked that, and the emotions are running high this week heading into a game we’re all looking forward to.

“It’s definitely a turning point in the season for everyone in this season.

“Those top two teams have a fair lead on everyone, but apart from that, it’s anyone’s game.

“That’s what makes this year’s league really exciting, and it’s a real shame Wasps and Worcester Warriors have dropped out because I feel they would be in the mix somewhere too.

“To see so many teams so close together is exciting for rugby and creates good competition.”

The Exiles will look to close a gap on Harlequins that currently stands at six league places but just five points, a deficit that could have looked more different after the last league meeting finished on a knife edge.

Simmons gives his understanding of what to expect from Irish’s rivals, as his team endeavour to secure a first league victory over Quins in Brentford.

“We have to be wary of their unpredictability, especially on the counterattack.

“It may feel as though you are in control, but all it takes is a quick shift in motion to catch you out.

“They will come very hard at our breakdown because they have guys that will attack that ball all over the park.

“Losing the ball at the breakdown can lead to them attacking from anywhere, so there’s feeling comfortable in one instance and then they can run the field the next.

“Of course we will be happy with any winning scoreline, whether that be 3-0 or anything like that, but I’m not sure each teams’ DNA will allow it!”

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