New wave of optimism at London Irish, claims Brian SmithBy Alan Manicom
June 22, 2012
Brian Smith insists there is a genuine feeling of optimism at London Irish as the club prepares to embark on a new era.
Exiles’ director of rugby is confident that rising young stars Jonathan Joseph, Tom Homer, Jamie Gibson, Alex Corbisiero and Marland Yarde can continue their rapid progress alongside experienced internationals Sailosi Tagicakibau, Topsy Ojo and Chris Hala’Ufia.
A whole new coaching team has been assembled following Toby Booth and Neal Hatley’s switch to Bath, Mike Catt’s decision to join Stuart Lancaster’s England set-up and the departure of Justin Bishop.
But Smith declared: “If you did a survey of the squad you will find that despite the fact that Catty’s moved on to England and Toby’s gone to Bath, the guys who are staying have a real positive vibe.
“They are excited about the potential for the future and we’ve recruited well.”
There were several new faces in evidence when the majority of the squad resumed pre-season training at Sunbury this week.
Irish have made 10 additions so far this summer.
The six new forwards currently confirmed are George Skivington from Leicester, Tom Smith and Cai Griffiths (both from Ospreys), Halani Aulika (Leeds), Scott Lawson (Gloucester) and Jonathan Fisher (Bedford), while bolstering the backs will be Tomas O’Leary (Munster), Shane Geraghty (Brive), Setaimata Sa (Catalan Dragons Rugby League Club) and Ian Humphreys (Ulster).
Smith is still looking to add to his backroom staff after recruiting Wales’ highly respected defence coach Shaun Edwards on a part-time basis, and appointing Glenn Delaney as forwards coach following the ex-London Irish lock’s successful spell as Nottingham’s director of rugby.
“The squad understands that the defence needs to tighten up. That’s why we’ve brought in Shaun Edwards,” said Smith, who also claims that crucial to his plans has been the arrival of Ireland international scrum-half O’Leary and return of England fly-half Geraghty.
He added: “We’ve got really good experience at halfback. Bringing in the right experience at 9 and 10 will mean that we’re playing in the right areas of the pitch and managing the game well.”
Irish are losing a lot of experience following the departures of stalwarts Bob Casey, Nick Kennedy, Paul Hodgson, Delon Armitage, Dan Bowden, Shontayne Hape, Faan Rautenbach and Clarke Dermody.
But with Joseph and Corbisiero both starting for England in tomorrow’s third Test against South Africa in Port Elizabeth, and Jamie Gibson helping the midweek team to a 57-31 win over the Northern Barbarians, a new generation of stars is emerging.
Smith continued: “I genuinely believe that there’s a buzz of excitement about next season.
“It’s always sad when one era ends, but the team that Bob Casey led to a Premiership final and Heineken Cup semi-final has gone.
“There are a few players bridging the old team to the new and we think we’ve signed a very competitive squad for next season.”