London Irish academy manager Patrick O’Grady says his young charges will grow from the experience of playing in the Singha Premiership Rugby 7s Series.
The Exiles went toe to toe with Harlequins and Gloucester in Pool B on Friday night, before returning to Franklin’s Gardens for the Bowl semi-final the following day.
Despite losing their two pool matches and the Bowl semi-final against tournament hosts Northampton Saints, O’Grady was proud of his troops.
“For some of the boys it was their first time representing London Irish at senior level, so it was a big occasion for them playing at a big stadium in front of the BT Sport cameras,” said O’Grady.
“I thought they rose to the occasion even though they found things tough at times. The lads demonstrated an excellent skillset and some of our core values and non-negotiables were in place.”
Irish were dealt a blow ahead of their Bowl semi-final, with three key members of the squad ruled out through injury. However, the Exiles showed spirit in abundance to push Northampton all the way only to be undone by two late tries.
Harlequins 24 London Irish 10
London Irish took on Harlequins in their opening match of the tournament, going down 24-10 to the Twickenham Stoop outfit.
Endeavouring to adjust to the slippery conditions at Franklin’s Gardens, Irish had the first clear opening of the contest when explosive winger Ben Loader raced clear down the far side, only to be bundled into touch by a covering Quins defence.
Quins registered the first score of the contest midway through the first half, Marcus Smith dotting down under the posts. Smith converted his own score with Quins in the ascendancy at 7-0.
Despite the early set-back, Patrick O’Grady’s men looked menacing in attack and on the stroke of half-time Irish crossed for a try through Loader. The lethal finisher collected Rory Brand’s neat chip over the top, before sprinting 30 metres to slide over in the corner.
Trailing 7-5 at the break, Irish were unable to prevent Smith from bagging his second try of the game when he demonstrated excellent support play inside Irish’s 22 to touch down.
Quins enhanced their lead moments later with a quick-fire double from Caden Murley and Callum Waters, with Smith converting the later to make it 24-5.
The Exiles had the last word however, by virtue of skipper Brand who crossed from close range to round off some superb attack play.
Gloucester Rugby 31 London Irish 10
The Bowl semi-final lay in wait for London Irish after they succumbed to a 31-10 defeat to Gloucester.
It was first blood to the Cherry and Whites when Harry Randall scooted in under the posts for a converted try. Irish hit back through Jaike Carter, who rounded off a swift attack involving Rory Brand and Jack Cooke. Brand was unable to add the extras, with Gloucester leading 7-5.
With half-time looming, Gloucester increased their advantage through a length of the field effort from Ben Vellacott.
Exiles’ Carter grabbed his brace for the evening with a searing burst of pace moments later to close the gap to 12-10, however three Gloucester tries in quick succession gave the Kingsholm outfit maximum spoils.
Northampton Saints 28-12 London Irish
Both sides traded a try apiece in the early exchanges of the match, Ollie Hassell-Collins scoring London Irish’s try with a 40 metre dash to the line.
Tom Collins crossed in the corner for Northampton just before the break, with Tom Emery converting from the touch line to make it 14-7.
George Simpson got Irish well and truly back in the game when he fended off a string of would-be tacklers on his way to the line. Brand missed the opportunity to regain parity with the subsequent conversion and Irish trailed 14-12.
Pushing for the win, Irish were unable to stay watertight in defence and Saints ran in two tries in the closing stages to book their place in the Bowl final.
1 Josh Basham
2 Isaac Curtis-Harris
3 Jack Cooke
4 Rory Brand
5 Ollie Hassell-Collins
6 Jaike Carter (Missed Bowl semi-final)
7 Ben Loader (Missed Bowl semi-final)
8 Samir Kharbouch
9 Isireli Seva (Missed Bowl semi-final)
10 Dan Barnes
11 George Simpson
12 Tom Hanley