London Irish today confirmed that Sekope Kepu has left the club due to personal reasons.
Kepu outlined the nature of his predicament to Director of Rugby, Declan Kidney, over recent weeks and this weekend confirmed that he felt he had no option but to return to New Zealand citing personal family health reasons – which will remain private – for his decision.
Declan Kidney said: “Whilst we are desperately disappointed, in these unprecedented times, we understand the human element of Sekope’s situation.
“We wish Sekope and his family well – and thank him for his contribution to the club.”
This blow is another blow after Billy Meakes’ time at London Irish also reached a conclusion, with the Australian heading to pastures new in the United States.
Meakes, who joined on a short-term contract in late October, will link up with LA Giltinis later this month, after saying his goodbyes to his Irish team-mates earlier this week.
The Australian centre made seven appearances for the Exiles – and leaves with the best wishes of everyone at the club.
Director of Rugby, Declan Kidney, said: “We wish Billy all the best for his future in America – and thank him for his professionalism and the contribution he has made at London Irish, both on and off the field.
“It takes a quality person to make such an impact in such a short period of time and that’s all credit to him.”
Meakes expressed his delight at how the last few months have panned out, commenting: “It’s been a really satisfying period for me.
“The opportunity to learn and grow has always excited me – and to do it for a short spell at a club like London Irish, with such a rich history, has been amazing.
“It’s a great group here and I’ll really miss them all.”
Meakes reserved his final words for the Exile Nation supporters, adding: “I’ve really felt the love from them, especially across social media, because sadly, they haven’t been in the stadium as much as we’d all have liked.
“I’ve really felt their support – and it’s been an absolute pleasure to be here.”
Wasps sign Bath lock Elliott Stooke
The 27-year-old, who has made 142 Premiership appearances has impressed in a Bath shirt for a number of years now.
Stooke began his career at Gloucester Rugby, before moving to West Country rivals Bath in 2016.
The Worcester born lock was the fastest player to reach 100 appearances in Bath’s history.
The six-foot six-inch forward was called up to England’s Six Nations Squad in March 2019, whilst he also featured in England’s summer fixture against the Barbarians in both 2018 and 2019.
Earlier in his career Stooke appeared for England Saxons, as well as being part of England Under 20s Junior World Championship winning side of 2013.
Wasps Men’s Head Coach Lee Blackett said: “We are extremely happy to be able to bring an experienced Premiership lock like Elliot on board for next season.
“Elliott is someone we’ve watched for years, and we are excited to work with him. He is well known within our squad, and we feel his ability, experience and character will add to us on the field as well as off the field.”
Stooke added: “I am delighted to have signed for Wasps; it is such a big club with great history. I am looking forward to progressing my career at the club and getting started with my Wasps teammates.”
Phipps pens Exiles contract extension
Nick Phipps has put pen to paper on a contract extension with London Irish.
The Australian scrum-half – who joined the Club ahead of the 2019/20 season – has agreed a new deal to extend his stay with the Exiles.
The 32 year-old, who has over 70 caps for the Wallabies to his name, has made 39 appearances for the Exiles to date – and he’s excited about what the future holds for London Irish over the coming years.
“I’m chuffed to bits to agree a new deal” he said.
“This is a really special Club and as a family we’re really enjoying our time in London, so there’s nowhere I’d rather be, it was a no-brainer to extend my stay.
“I want to make special memories here. We’ve got a great bunch of boys, who love playing for this Club; the coaching staff are great to work with on a daily basis – and we really feel we’re on an upward trajectory.
“There’s good things going to be happening here, I’m convinced of that – and I can’t wait to continue to be part of this exciting journey we’re on.”
Exiles Director of Rugby, Declan Kidney, believes Phipps’ decision to extend his stay at Irish is a clear signal of the Club’s intent, commenting: “Nick is an outstanding professional, the kind of player every coach dreams of having in their squad.
“His desire to continue to improve as a player, irrespective of what he’s achieved in a stellar career so far, speaks volumes of him.
“The fact he sees his long-term future here tells you we’re moving in the right direction, so we couldn’t be more delighted he’s committed his future to the Club.”
‘In-form Gloucester a dangerous prospect’ – Lam
Ashton Gate is set to welcome supporters back for the first time in 14 months, with 3,138 expected in BS3 – and Lam says the return of fans will provide a huge boost for his players, who sealed their play-off place with four rounds remaining by beating Bath at The Rec in round 18.
“It’s exciting times. There is a focus on every game, so playing Gloucester heightens everything again, and the crowd coming in, albeit the beginning of a process to build the crowd back up, it’s exciting times.
“We understand it’s another derby with Gloucester and they will be dangerous. They had a great win, and they are improving every time under George (Skivington) and their new coaching regime.
“However, for us, I think the biggest focus is that every game is important, because when we took top spot in the table in round six, for us still to be there in round 19 is a huge effort, because we put an emphasis on us and on our journey, and we said the only reason we’ll get overtake is if we drop our standards.
“So, it would be a shame, with the position we are in with four games to go and an eight-point lead, to not get to the end as the team at the top, before we go into the semis.”
Lam praised his side’s mentality after they fought back from 15 points down to complete a second successive league double over Bath – and the Bears boss believes the experience will stand them in good stead come the business end of the season.
“The outcome is extremely pleasing. To get a record score down at The Rec was massive and a real testament to the work done by everybody – and the way we did it.
“We knew what we needed to do, and we knew the opportunities were there. We gifted them two soft tries, but the calmness of the guys to work their way through it and keep at it, and it’s great when guys are saying ‘keep going and we’ll get there.’
“For it turn out that way was pleasing and will hold us in good stead for what’s to come.”
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