6 May 2023
Sticking together as a collective has seen London Irish through a tumultuous week, So’otala Fa’aso’o has told ahead of what will be an emotive final day of the 2022/23 Gallagher Premiership regular season.
Declan Kidney’s Exiles have readied themselves for one final hurdle of the campaign vs. Exeter Chiefs against backdrop of headlines about the Club, yet, the group have conducted themselves with consummate professionalism.
Messages of good will have not gone unnoticed by the team, which have encouraged the boys and “made their jobs easier”.
Fa’aso’o tells of how the playing and off-field group have coped for an unforgettable week and overcome the adversity as a unit of Exiles.
“From a player and group perspective, the thing we have done amazingly is stick together,” he outlined.
“We’ve had no individual egos, it’s been a collective, likeminded approach just as it is in a game.
“No one person can stray from what the group is doing and that has translated into the Club in general, everyone has stuck together and no one has approached the problem with individual actions.”
After being on the receiving end of a flood of support, Fa’aso’o wanted to communicate his own gratitude to supporters and neutrals alike.
“To the supporters and all the boys’ families alike, I wanted to say a big thank you for the patience and support you have shown for London Irish - we are all Exiles here.
“It’s really easy to hit panic stations, but from what the boys have said, the supporters have always had the Club and its people’s best interests at heart.
“That makes it easier for us to come here and do our job because they care about the brand and who we are, but so much of the support is directed at the people, so thank you!”
Recently on the pitch, Fa’aso’o’s form has peaked at the right time of the campaign.
Big derby day hits, bustling carries and a touchdown against Northampton Saints has seen the 28-year-old’s stock continuously rise in his maiden campaign in west London.
In the loose forward’s eyes, however, it has taken time to adapt to London Irish, but the backing of those around him at the Hazelwood Centre has increased his confidence when taking to the field.
“I had a good conversation with people at the Sponsors’ Evening at Hazelwood last week, and I think I summarised it best then.
“I think when I got here I wished I was younger, and my hat has to go off to those young lads coming over from different places because they contribute to that recipe for success.
“There’s no fear when you go out, you go out to express yourself but when you’re older you’re a bit more hesitant because you want to do the job and you’re aware that you know how to not make mistakes.
“It was a little like that when I started, but I feel like I have figured it out and the coaches and the boys trust me, even when I do something a little left-field!”
Putting behind the emotions of the last seven days will be key for Fa’aso’o in order to continue his fine form in Irish green and “put on a show” for the deserving supporters.
“We’re humans first, I can’t speak for everyone but of course there were concerns at the start of the week, but we have a job to do.
“I tried to see the positives in the situation, and I am very fortunate that I get the opportunity to go out there and put on a show with 22 other blokes that are lucky enough to be selected.
“Throughout the week, there are another 49 guys that we get to work with to try and put on that show.
“I guess that’s what it comes down to, making sure everyone that comes to see us has a good time and they have some smiles on their faces, even with what has gone on this week.
“We can put it behind us this weekend, we’ll go and have a good time and we can work towards big things soon.”
Exeter’s last trip to the Gtech Community Stadium saw them walk away with the Premiership Rugby Cup, but in the league, it has been an even split of wins over the course of the last six meetings.
An evenly matched encounter also sees the sides split only by one place and four points in the Premiership table, as Irish and Chiefs look to solidify their spot as high as possible in the rungs.
Being the final game of a memorable campaign, saying farewell to players who have served their Clubs down the years will only heighten the occasion’s importance.
Fa’aso’o concluded: “Exeter are Exeter, they play a brand of rugby that is unique to them and we play a brand that is unique to us.
“It will come down to a case of who can impose their style and their will over each other, they have a lot to play for as well.
“They have boys that are leaving, some great servants to Chiefs rugby, international rugby and to the Premiership too.
“The best justice we can do to them is to give them a proper fight, at the same time, we have guys that have served the Club beautifully.
“Dec [Kidney] has always said that you leave the Club in a better place than you found it, and I believe that this is a great year to back up that message given we are fighting for our highest finish in 14 years.
“There’s an opportunity there with a lot of emotional motivators, but we’re wanting to get the better of them in attack, defence and the set-piece to get the result.”