Aviva Premiership: Smith can’t wait to unleash London Irish signings
Aviva Premiership: London Irish director of rugby Brian Smith can't wait to unleash new front-row signings
Brian Smith admits he can’t wait to test out his new weapons in the forward pack after making a raft of signings in preparation for the new Aviva Premiership season.
Familiar names will be missing among the forwards at the Madejski Stadium in September, with Chris Hala’ufia having departed for pastures new and Declan Danaher now coaching with the academy.
But in the meantime the Exiles have bulked up in both quality and depth as seasoned internationals such as Luke Narraway, Geoff Cross and British & Irish Lion Tom Court have all signed up for the ride.
Geoff Cross played really well against South Africa for Scotland last month, so in the front-row we’ve added a lot of quality
That’s not to mention the return of prop Halani Aulika – who has recently suffered a wretched time with injuries – and now the target for London Irish director of rugby Smith is an improvement upon last year’s tenth-place finish.
“We’ve recruited pretty well in the forward pack and taken in a lot of strength in depth up front. It’s a bit like a new school year – you’ve got the new school uniform on, the new black shoes, and we’re all excited about what’s going on ahead,” said Smith.
“Halani is like a new signing for us and Tom Court’s a big, big loosehead who is a great strength for us.
“Geoff Cross played really well against South Africa for Scotland last month, so in the front-row we’ve added a lot of quality. Dan Leo is a monster, a very physical player and Sean Cox is a guy with massive work-rate so those are the guys to come in the second-row.
“In the back-row, Luke Narraway, Tom Guest and Conor Gilsenan – our back-row is pretty handy as it is and those three boys are going to come in and really add to it.
“So we’ve put a big emphasis on getting the tight five sorted but also adding more strength and depth to the back-row.
“So we’re in pretty good shape but, like all teams, we want to get a fast start but we also recognise it’s a 22-round competition played over nine months, so you’ve got to have endurance as well.”
As well as moving into a brand new, cutting edge training facility, Irish have brought in just the right man from Toulon to help run it – strength and conditioning coach Steve Walsh.
Walsh has helped mastermind the fitness that has seen Toulon sweep up European and domestic honours of late, and Smith believes he will fit seamlessly into the Exiles’ overarching vision.
“The big picture the club’s looked at is getting the academy right and we’ve made a big investment there with Nick Kennedy, Paul Hodgson and Dec Danaher,” he added.
“And behind the scenes Steve Walsh has been a significant back-room signing – he’s a great tone-setter, a lot of experience and success, double Heineken Cup winner, French Championship winner.
“It’s his programme and the boys are getting smashed in the gym and we’re sorting that stuff out.
“He’s been in Toulon for five years, they’ve won things, but he’s bought into the vision of the new London Irish and he wants to be part of building something here.”