London Irish Assistant Coach Declan Danaher has praised to efforts of the squad to reach the Premiership Rugby Cup semi-final and “earn the right” to wear the Irish jersey.

Danaher, who has taken a forward step throughout recent seasons of the competition to lead the cup squad, also underlined the need for the team to maintain their home form.

The Exiles are unbeaten in their last five outings in domestic competition at the Gtech Community Stadium, including their final pool encounter in the cup against Bath Rugby.

Northampton Saints stand between the west Londoners and a second consecutive final berth in the Premiership Rugby Cup, with Danaher anticipating a similar level of competitiveness to their pool stage meeting.

“Last year was hard to take in the end, especially because of the hard work that lads had to put in to get there,” Danaher said of last year’s final loss to Worcester Warriors.

“At the start of the campaign, we wanted to give ourselves another opportunity to put that right, and we’re on that journey now.

“Friday night for us is important, we’re not looking beyond it being the next step to reaching the final and it will obviously be a tough game too.

“We have already played Saints once, and we know how tough that was, it was an 80-minute game where we managed to put a few things right in the second half to get that important win.

“We want to maintain momentum, and I think we especially want to maintain our home record now.

“We’re going there now and are winning successive games in front of our supporters and families – that is pretty special, and we’re starting to get that feel of making Brentford our home.”

A comeback win over the East Midlands side all the way back in Round 1 of the tournament set the tone for Irish in their three other outings to progress to this weekend’s knockout stage match.

In the process of qualifying, Irish set a record for the first side to achieve maximum points in the pool stages of the Premiership Rugby Cup since its inception in 2018, with 20 points from a possible 20 accrued.

The Irish stalwart credited the “hunger” prevalent throughout the playing squad to stake their claim for regular matchday outings and aid in Irish’s qualification this term.

“The squad for this weekend will have a strong makeup of guys that have played in this competition.

“They have earned that right to pull that jersey on, we have done well in all of our fixtures in the pool and younger players have played a really significant role in that.

“Players like Michael Dykes, Jack Cooke, and Ben Loader, who played a cup game and I think off the back of that, kick-started his season and went strength-to-strength for us.

“The younger guys have been given their deserved opportunities, but also guys like Ben and Rory Jennings have come in and are hungry to play in the competition.

“The biggest thing for them is having that buzz and playing in front of home fans.”

Dykes has been one of the breakout stars of this season for the Club, scoring four tries in four cup games this season before marking his Gallagher Premiership debut with a derby day hattrick against Harlequins.

The determination of the 21-year-old is accompanied by the effort put in by the coaches and squad members at Hazelwood, in order to nurture junior players like Dykes and Ollie Hassell-Collins into capable senior professionals.

“What it shows with players like Dykesy is the incredible amount of hard work that goes on behind the scenes to get these lads prepared, in particular coaches like Brad Davis, Lights [James Lightfoot Brown] and Les [Kiss].

“They manage that expectation well, I’ve been lucky enough to coach alongside Lights and Jon Fisher in this competition and both will have a really bright future in the game, the way they think about the game is brilliant and they work incredibly hard to make sure we go far in this competition.

“Coming out of schoolboy rugby, you have a certain amount of traits that will suit, but when you get into a Premiership level, there will be things you haven’t been exposed to that you have develop quickly.

“Things like kicking, playing under the high ball and extracting off the wing to find work – it isn’t just about scoring tries.

“What I think is done well is the long-term development coordinated by the coaching staff in that aspect, we want them to kick-on from this competition and see where they can get too.”

Danaher took stock of the progression shown in the side this term, and showcased his pride in seeing the positive development of players in the team this season.

“The most rewarding thing is seeing guys fulfil their potential, whether that’s the likes of Dykesy getting a debut hattrick, Jack Cooke leading the team or someone like Josh Basham, who has come back into the Club and done well.

“I appreciate that now more than ever, being part of someone’s journey like that and seeing them do it in a London Irish jersey makes it even better.

“It’s the nicer element of coaching,” he jested.

“Because it isn’t about winning or losing, it’s about how hard someone has had to work to reach that point in their journey.”

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