Club-by-club guide: London Irish

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The Independent Online

Head Coach: Toby Booth

Captain: Bob Casey

IN

Chris Hala’ufia (Harlequins) James Buckland (London Wasps)

OUT

Phil Murphy (Viadana) Gonzalo Tiesi (Harlequins) Mark Ireland (Cornish Pirates) Nils Mordt (Northampton) Aidan McCullen (Lansdowne) Jeremy Staunton (Wasps)

First five games

Sep 6 London Wasps (Twickenham)

Sep 13 Leicester Tigers (A)

Sep 20 Bath (H)

Sep 27 Harlequins (A)

Oct 1 Sale Sharks (H)

Lessons from last season

Irish suffered from being in the latter stages of the Heineken Cup when their squad was stretched beyond its means. What their progress to the semifinals showed, though, is that they have the potential to live with the big boys. Losing Brian Smith (right) will be a blow in their search for consistency in the Premiership and they may want to see the coming campaign as nothing more than a chance to consolidate. What they proved under Smith was that attractive rugby could be winning rugby.

Strengths

Nick Kennedy and Bob Casey were the Premiership’s best lineout double act last season and will need to be on song again if their talented backs are to get enough ball to do the damage out wide. Peter Hewat at full-back also proved to be a reliable source of points with the boot.

Weaknesses

Despite their lineout strength, the scrum is actually a bit creaky. Speaking of creaky, can Mike Catt (left) really be expected to combine playing with a larger coaching remit now Smith has gone? There is also the small matter of a relatively thin playing squad. Injuries could take their toll.

Player to watch

Steffon Armitage is a pocket rocket of a No.7 and deserved his Saxons call-up for the Churchill Cup. His fitness belies his portly stature and he looks made for the tap and go culture the ELVs are set to create.

Did you know?

Comedian Spike Milligan, who once tackled legendary All Black flanker Ian Kirkpatrick in a Dublin bar, played for London Irish’s B team before the Second World War.

Prediction

Lost their coach, thin squad - a tough season ahead.

10th

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