Yeah, we know, the fixtures launch was a while back and this interview should have gone up ages ago… what can we say, we had a bit of time off to enjoy the summer sunshine. Now though the season is looming ever closer so we’re back with @RugbyLI to bring you their chat with Franco van der Merwe at BT Tower.
So the last time we spoke Franco you were right at the end of the Championship season and we’d just been promoted. Have you had the chance to get a good break in since then?
Yeah, it was pretty good. We had about five weeks off. I spent some time in South Africa, got back and then spent some time in Croatia too. I’m refreshed and looking forward to the new season with new fixtures as well.
Like you say, we know our fixtures now. Did any of them catch your eye as you were looking through?
There’s a couple! I think one of the biggest ones is obviously our first game, we play Wasps away for our first Prem game back. I think its gonna be super exciting just to play in the Prem again, the stadiums, the feel, the crowds…. Just everything. It’s great to be back in!
First home game we play Sale at the Madejski which will be a pretty big one for us as well. Hopefully we can get the stadium filled up. The crowd, the fans, they’ve been unbelievable in the Championship and they’ve shown true loyalty to London Irish!
Of course the Paddys Day game against Northampton Saints is going to be a massive party and a big game at the Madejski, so I’m looking forward to that.
It’ll be sad in a way when we host Bristol on our last game of the season and say goodbye to the Madejski, hopefully we can give the stadium a good farewell.
There are no easy games in this league, but drawing the likes of Saracens and even Sale when a lot of their big names will be off at the World Cup has to help?
It is important for us to look at the fixtures in that way, we need to build momentum as soon as possible and we’ll be working hard toward that, but we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves and target that third or fourth game. It’s important to get that first one out of the way and play really well to our strengths and see how the season goes from there.
Is it fair to say we perhaps got a little too excited after a big win in our first game the last time we returned to the Prem?
That London derby was unbelievable! It was my first taste of Premiership rugby and I thought “this is unreal!”.
After that it didn’t go so well. We lost momentum by whatever reasons. There’s a few games we lost by like a couple or five points. We got a lot of bonus points but we need to turn those games into wins, that would have made a very different season for us.
It is important that we, as a team, know we have to fight for every inch in this league. That’s one of our focus points.
It’s a bittersweet time of year as we have lots of new signings coming in which is really exciting for us as fans, but you guys see a lot of friends leave as well, which must be difficult. How has it been coming back to training and not seeing those familiar faces?
Rugby is a funny game. It’s never your jersey, your number… you’re just renting it for a while and when you pass it on the game goes on.
The players we’ve lost have done an excellent job, whether they’re wearing that 13 shirt, a number 5 or whatever… they’ve been superb and have made their mark but we also need to move on and we’re pretty excited to see world class players coming in.
More importantly though we’re not focusing on the new guys, as a squad we’re back in training and we have to be at a standard that’s good enough for the Prem, we can’t wait for those players to come in and provide a spark or give us something to play for! It’s important we start well and those guys slot in and just add to that momentum.
To that end, we had the opportunity to give a lot of our young players some good hard minutes in the Champ, that must be advantageous!
That’s a very good thing for the club! Being able to see whether the young guys from the academy or new signings were ready to make the jump to the Prem when we went up. One of those guys was Ben Loader, he’s been phenomenal and that’s why he got picked to take on the Barbarians. Look at those youngsters playing for England under 20s too. That’s great, they’re pushing the older and more experienced guys to greater heights!
Talking of players joining, we’ve had a couple of new signings in your position with Adam Coleman and Ruan Botha, are you looking forward to the competition for the shirt?
There’s always been competition and it’s great to have it, it brings the best out of you. The moment you get into your comfort zone is when things can go pear shaped!
They’re world class players, I know Ruan and I’ve played alongside him. He’s a good leader, runs the line out well and he’s had a great Super Rugby season too.
I haven’t played with Adam but he’s another world class talent and a big lad, I’m looking forward to him joining us.
We’ve got the fixtures now but it’s a while until the first one takes place so what are you enjoying about pre-season, assuming pre-season can be enjoyable?
Well… at least there’s good craic amongst the players. There’s plenty of downtime and we have a lot of coffees but there’s a lot of hard work going into pre-season!
To be fair to the coaches, management and the strength & conditioning and medical team, there’s been a bit of a change to the way we’re doing things around the club and how we prepare but I’m afraid the next four weeks might be some pretty tough old-school training!
It’ll pay off when you hit the field in that first game though!
It’s quite a long time, but we have 4 Prem Cup games before the league starts. It’s really important that when we get to that first game we’re still mentally fresh. If you’re already burned out or you start looking to that first game too early you’ll be knackered by the time the first whistle blows!
Our thanks to Franco and to the club for making time for the interview, to Premiership Rugby for giving us access to the fixtures launch and to Matt Merritt for heading along to chat with the team representatives. Look out for plenty more interviews to come as the season commences!