Speaking after London Irish’s defeat to DHL Stormers, London Irish Director of Rugby Declan Kidney affirms that there will be much to digest from their campaign in the Heineken Champions Cup so far.
The Exiles have now faced three defeats in their first outing in the tournament in a decade, with the Irishman emphasising the need to learn fast going forward in such elevated levels of competition.
Stormers took a second successive victory over Irish in as many rounds in Europe, winning 28-14, with the Exiles operating with a reduced complement for the last three quarters of the matchup at the Gtech Community Stadium.
Red cards to Ben Loader and Ciaran Parker, as well as Juan Martín González’s sin binning, increased the size of the task for his side but Kidney spoke of his contentment in the performance of the team overall.
“I’m proud of how the 13 played out the second half,” Irish’s Director of Rugby said.
“With 13 men against the champions of the United Rugby Championship, from our point of view the scoreboard was 14-7 in those last 37 minutes so they stuck at it well.
“From their point of view, they managed the game well from then on out however, and we couldn’t get the result.”
Kidney explains how operating with less than 15 men on the field affects Irish’s output, particularly against the calibre of sides in the Champions Cup.
“It’s difficult as a half back, being down men means that your attack options are a bit more limited and everyone else has to work even harder.
“Stormers played really well and didn’t overcommit to the ruck, and they kept their numbers in midfield so it was hard for us to find gaps.
“We managed to find two scores in the second half and came close to a third, which would have given us a point – every point in Europe is vital.
“They are the fine margins that as a group we must understand that they have a huge part of any progression in this competition.”
The Exiles now face Montpellier Hérault in the fourth and final round of the pool stages, a team that also won at Brentford to open the tournament but are yet to win in Europe since that meeting.
Having attained one point in this year’s competition, the west Londoners will require a win and other results to go their way should they wish to continue in European competition this season.
The challenge for Irish remains taking as many learnings from recent experiences on the continent, as well as competing at the highest level of knockout rugby.
“In Europe, you want to be winning your home matches at the very least, and it is a challenge to try and do that with less than 15 men on the pitch.
“Coming in as one of the lower seeds of the competition, you draw the likes of the URC winners and the French champions and you need to be on the money to beat sides like that.
“That’s why in one respect, there will be massive frustration and disappointment but there will also be encouragement for how the lads on the pitch conducted themselves.
“If we can go about what we did with 13 men, then we know we can do even better with 15.
“It will be a learning curve for the whole Club, there is more scrutiny in this competition but that’s what makes it such a great competition.
“We have to learn to go into it, the Club hasn’t been in the tournament for nigh-on 10 years and we can take many things from experiences like these, and the sooner we learn these things the better.”
Leicester Tigers head coach, Dan McKellar said: “The group, players and staff were on the go for 23 weeks straight so getting away from the game for a period was really beneficial and we’ve come back in enthused for this challenge this week.
“Ealing are a team full of experience and quality, so we’ll have to be at our best to get the result we want, on a big day for the likes of Hanro and Finn.
“It’s fitting that Hanro leads us on his 100th game. He carried a lot of the leadership burden during the World Cup and continues to be someone the boys can count on to lead with his actions.”
Scott MacLeod is returning to Newcastle Falcons as line-out coach, with the former Scotland lock on board until at least the end of the season.
The Hawick native spent 11 years with the Falcons, making 61 appearances as a player before joining the coaching team in 2016.
Having departed Kingston Park last summer MacLeod will now return to impart his expertise, combining coaching commitments with working for his family’s business in the Scottish Borders.
Newcastle Falcons’ consultant director of rugby Steve Diamond said: “Scott is a well-respected line-out specialist who can help us make some big gains in that area between now and the end of the season.
“He knows and loves the club, he’s very well regarded here and I’m looking forward to getting him back involved.
“We’ve initially said it’s until the end of the season and I know Scott has other business commitments, but if it works well for both parties over the next few months then we’ll be happy to look at extending it beyond that.”
Capped 24 times by Scotland in a playing career which also saw him starring for Border Reivers, Edinburgh, Scarlets, Kobelco Steelers and Newcastle, the set-piece specialist is relishing the prospect of reinvigorating the Falcons’ line-out during the remainder of the season.
MacLeod said: “Our line-out has consistently been in the top four of the Premiership over the past few years, so hopefully I can come in and help get us back up there.
“I’ve been watching the games from afar this season because Newcastle Falcons is still a big part of my life, even though I’ve not been personally involved since the summer. I just want to come in and make a positive difference, get us back to where we should be and help the boys.”
Having spent more than a decade at Kingston Park as a player and coach, MacLeod insisted the opportunity to return was just too good to pass up.
“I’ve missed the place a lot,” said the 44-year-old.
“I’m now working for my family’s business, MacLeod Glass, up in Hawick, but I’m sure any sportsperson will tell you they miss being in and around that team environment. It’s certainly very different going from a Premiership rugby club to working in a factory every day, and it’s been a shock to the system.
“I’ll now get to combine both, and I’ve missed being involved with the professional game. I’ve been coaching my son’s S2 side to get my rugby fix, but I’m buzzing to be back with the Falcons. It’s a really special club for me.”
Setting out with one clear aim, the Scot said: “I just want us to get our identity back.
“I’ll come in, assess our strengths and our weaknesses and come up with a plan accordingly. I know some of the players really well and I don’t know others at all, but luckily with us having this big break before our next game it’s absolutely ideal timing for getting things in place.
“One thing you have to bear in mind with Newcastle is how bad the weather is, in terms of how much you can push it in the line-out, but I just want to get the confidence back into the boys.
“It’s about simple things being done well on a consistent basis, and I’m starting this week to help put it in motion.
“I’ve got a few weeks to get to know the guys I’ve not worked with before, see how it all ties in with the lads I already know and then knit it all together into a game plan which works best for the team.
“As I say, I just want us to have that Newcastle Falcons identity again when it comes to the line-out, and I’m really positive about things. We’ll see how it works between now and the end of the season, and if everyone’s happy then we can see where it goes.”
Newcastle Falcons’ next home game is against Leicester Tigers on Good Friday (March 29), with tickets on sale for the 7.45pm kick-off by clicking here.