London Irish hoping to maintain post-Christmas form, says Smith

Brian Smith says London Irish are hoping to continue their form post-Christmas and climb the Aviva Premiership

Brian Smith says London Irish are hoping to maintain their improved form after Christmas to surge up the Aviva Premiership.

The Exiles have won just three league matches in the first half of the season and sit third bottom, but are unbeaten in January with two convincing wins in the Amlin Challenge Cup and victory over the league’s bottom side Worcester Warriors.

We’re reaching some milestones even though we’d like to be doing better in the league

Brian Smith

Speaking to The Sport Review, Smith, Irish director of rugby, said: “For whatever reason, we seem to do a lot better after Christmas.

“We’re in pretty good shape mentally and we’re just coming off the back of the Amlin Challenge Cup where we scored more tries than anyone else in the competition.

“So there’s a lot of good things happening at the club and we’re reaching some milestones even though we’d like to be doing better in the league.”

Irish have picked up five losing bonus points in the competition this season, with close defeats by Exeter Chiefs, Harlequins, Newcastle, Northampton and Gloucester, with losses to Leicester and London Wasps also far from comprehensive.

Smith added: “We find in the Premiership that the key battle grounds are the territory between the 22s, being able to apply pressure and absorb pressure there.

“There have been some games this season in our league teams drive and scrum for penalties in those areas to try to get field position. When they get inside the 22, they’ll convert pressure into points, so we need to control that a little bit better.

“We’ve had some scrum penalties, we’ve been a little bit short of personnel in the tight five at times so we’ve been susceptible to scrum penalties, but we’re a young, developing team, the club’s been going through a bit of a transition of ownership the last couple of seasons.”

Five or six of those Premiership games have been very tight and we’re just on the wrong side of those results

London Irish director of rugby

Despite a youthful squad, injury problems and changes to the way the club is run, without spending anything near the league’s salary cap, Smith believes the club’s fortunes are turning for the better.

He continued: “We’re not too far away. There’s an unbelievably good fighting quality and a strong spirit in the group and we’re blooding some young players, so we’re not too far away.

“Five or six of those Premiership games have been very tight and we’re just on the wrong side of those results, but this time last season we turned the corner after Christmas and we went on a big run.

With the Premiership’s behemoths losing a raft of international talent to the Six Nations championship which begins next week, the Exiles’ coach believes that his side can take advantage of retaining most of their core squad to boost their chances, insisting Irish don’t fear anyone.

Having suffered a 40-22 defeat to Saracens at Twickenham on the opening weekend of the season, the Australian has no sympathy for the league leaders ahead of their visit to the Madejski Stadium in February.

Smith added: “Last season, Sarries beat us once and we beat them once, so we respect them as opponents but we certainly don’t fear any team in the league. If we turn up and play well I think we’re capable of turning them over.

“What I would say is that I wouldn’t shed too many tears for Sarries having 10 international players [called up for the Six Nations]. They have an embarrassment of riches and probably go three deep with international players from one to 15, running the biggest squad in the league and more caps than anyone else, maybe with the exception of Leicester, so let’s not get the violins out for Saracens.”

London Irish take on Wasps in the LV= Cup on Saturday 25 January.

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