One fresh face and another much older hand are hoping to combine to give London Irish a lift at Wasps this afternoon. Brendan Venter, the Exiles' former coach, popped into the club for a couple of days during the week to work on their defence. Scott Staniforth, a former wing for Australia, has signed up for two years to add a cutting edge to the attack.
Venter, who completed the second of his two spells with the Irish at the end of the 2002-03 season, was on a working visit from his medical practice in South Africa. The good doctor's offer of a defensive diagnosis was gratefully received by the Irish after they shipped five tries in a 39-22 home defeat by Leicester last Sunday.
"He was the first one to install our type of defence over here, and he was able to give us some good tips," said Staniforth, a 26-year-old New South Walian. "Coming from Australia, it's been one of the hardest things for me. Our defences always drift, we don't do the four-up or up-and-in, so it goes against every principle I've learned. Learning it from scratch has been a huge challenge."
Staniforth is quick to point out the challenge is one he relishes. Indeed, he is quick in many respects: quick across the ground, as the Lions found out when the 6ft 2in flyer finished a fine try against them playing for Australia A in 2001. And quick to make an impression in the Zurich Premiership: witness a high- quality midair catch and pass to make a score for Geoff Appleford in Irish's second match of the season, at Gloucester.
The promise suggested by that bonus-point defeat at Kingsholm, hard on the heels of an opening win over Harlequins in the London double-header at Twickenham, led to something of a letdown against Leicester. "We were very disappointed about the defeat," said Irish's coach, Gary Gold. "Not just by the margin of victory but also by the manner in which we conceded the scores."
No self-respecting Aussie ever gets down for too long, however - cricketing setbacks against the Poms notwithstanding - and Staniforth, with his wife and two young children in tow, is enjoying his change of scenery. After gaining the last of his three Wallaby caps on the 2002 tour of Europe, he had a meeting with the coach, Eddie Jones, which left him more or less convinced that his international days were numbered, coinciding as they did with the advent of the rugby league recruits Andrew Walker, Lote Tuqiri, Wendell Sailor and Mat Rogers.
"I wanted to come over last year but it didn't work out," said Staniforth, whose brother Graydon has joined Exeter. "Now that I am here, everyone at London Irish has made me feel welcome. I don't know the history of the club that well, but I've been impressed with their professionalism. And I've had a bit of Guinness; they know how to pour it over here."
A glance at the honours board in the Four Provinces Bar at Irish's Sunbury HQ reveals the growing globalisation of the club. To a long list of Ireland internationals, including no fewer than 22 during the 1990s, have been added representatives of Zimbabwe, New Zealand, Italy, Samoa, Fiji, South Africa, Germany, England, Wales, Scotland and now - thanks to the signing of Staniforth - Australia.
"I don't have to worry about other selections any more," said Staniforth. "The only thing I've got to worry about is playing well for London Irish and having fun. I played Super 12, which is only 11 weeks and you've really got to hit the ground running. It will be interesting to see how I handle the longer season."
There is no sign of Staniforth taking a break just yet. Today he switches to full-back in place of the young England sevens prospect Delon Armitage, who took a physical battering from Leicester.
The Irish are looking to expand on the growing influence in midfield of Mike Catt, who, having worked with Phil Larder for England for seven years, is reported to have been impressed by Venter's defence sessions. A change is as good as a rest, as Scott Staniforth is hoping to prove.
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