Brad Davis Exclusive: ‘Every week is an important week in the Premiership’

Brad Davis joined London Irish in 2019 after time with Ospreys and Bath
©London Irish

The 2022/23 season will be Brad Davis’ 17th as a coach. Making his way to rugby union after spending his playing career and early coaching days in rugby league, the 54-year-old is hoping to help take London Irish to the next level.

First joining up with Declan Kidney’s side in 2019, Davis brought with him over a decade’s worth of experience after spending time with Bath and Ospreys, and now the Australian not only leads the club’s defence, but also their skills.

In preparation for the new campaign, it has been a much different summer to those that have been experienced at the Hazelwood Training Ground in years gone by. This was primarily due to the club having had numerous internationals away, all the while preparing for one of Irish's biggest terms in recent memory.

It wasn’t long ago at all that the future of the Exiles looked far different to now. In the past decade, London Irish have been relegated twice, but last season competed at the top of the Gallagher Premiership and qualified for the Champions Cup for the first time since 2012.

Looking to improve upon their eighth-place finish in 2021/22, at the Gtech Community Stadium on Saturday afternoon, Irish got off to the best possible start thanks to a 45-14 victory over Worcester Warriors.

From that win, a whole host of positives could be found not least the club’s England internationals Henry Arundell and Will Joseph having positive impacts on the field. Ollie Hassell-Collins also produced a Player of the Match performance and numerous more had their say on the clash.

“We have improved since we got promoted from the Championship year in, year out,” Davis told TRU. “We finished eighth last year, deservedly so, and to think that we can just naturally turn up this year and climb to sixth is unrealistic.

“Every week is an important week in the Premiership, any side can beat any other side on any given day as we saw last season. For example, I can’t see the likes of Bath being worse off than they were last year, They’ll be much more competitive with the new coaching structure and the high calibre coaches going into their organisation.

“The thing about aiming to finish in the top six, you have got to look at the clubs underneath you or the six clubs underneath you. When you look around the Premiership, because of the salary cap, everyone’s ultra-competitive.

“I think our job is going to be to stay focused on what is right in front of us on any given week and to try and get as many points out of any given game. Then we will see where we end up.”

As in any Rugby World Cup year, the season is going to be a long one. Between now and 2023, there is just one weekend without Premiership or European rugby scheduled. It is going to be a quite frankly brutal run of fixtures both physically and mentally for all involved.

That, combined with the reduction of the salary cap, makes it an incredibly interesting challenge for coaches to balance their squads, especially with internationals due to have extended periods away from domestic rugby.

It means Kidney, Les Kiss and the rest of the Exiles’ coaching staff are likely to be without a significant number of players. 

Part of their success has seen the likes of Arundell, Joseph, Ben White and Kyle Rowe make their international debuts, while Agustin Creevy has received a recall to the Argentina set-up. Juan Martin Gonzalez and Lucio Cinti have also been key performers for Michael Cheika in The Rugby Championship.

Irish's stock is high and they are also pooled with Top 14 champions Montpellier Herault and United Rugby Championship title holders DHL Stormers in the Champions Cup, all the while aiming for a top third finish in the Premiership.

“You have to balance your squad at those Prem Cup games and also in the Premiership as well,” Davis said. “You can’t look at the block of games and think – and no disrespect to the teams that did finish in 12th and 13th– but as it was, we could go to Newcastle or Worcester and pick up those win  because if you put pressure on yourself in that regard, then you are storing up a lot of pressure that later on you are in desperate need of.

“I think it is just a case of looking at the campaign as a season, how it is planned and structured, focusing on what we can do on that first week, having a little bit of a ‘plan B’ in terms of player rotation around the fixture in those first four weeks where there is Prem Cup games as well.

During his playing career and early coaching career, Davis worked in rugby league
©London Irish

“That is where the squad is going to have to be operating with fully fit and at full capacity so that we can get through those games in decent shape. For us as a squad, all we have looked at really is how we can improve our game and the things that possibly let us down last season. I think if we can improve those little aspects of our game, we are going to be there or thereabouts.”

Following a bright start to 2021/22, Irish were competing for a place in the Premiership’s play-offs. A mid-season dip in form would ultimately see the team finish in eighth, still qualifying for the Champions Cup, but 12 points adrift from fourth-place Northampton Saints.

It still did not stop the Gtech Community Stadium becoming the place to go for some of the most entertaining rugby available. Across last season, there were a series of sensational match-ups that took place involving the Exiles. 

This included a rather astonishing five draws and wins when they came from behind. For being the Premiership’s heart attack side, Davis says defence did become a work-on over the summer.

“I think what was shown at the end of last season was that everything pretty much out of our own 22 zone, we were pretty good in terms of our key statistics,” Davis said.

“What we weren’t, we weren’t resilient enough, we weren’t tough enough on our own try line and we conceded far too many easy tries in two to three phases when we were 10 meters out from our try line.

“We have identified areas of our defence that I think if we can put a spotlight on them and be more resilient, be tougher on ourself as a group. We can definitely have a spike in energy in that area and fight and desire – all those emotive sorts of things that you have got to bring to your own try line.

“I think we can really tidy up our defence. No one likes to be conceding tries, and we conceded far too many easy tries in really short periods of time. It is something we have talked about as a group, we have addressed it, we are trying to put it out on the training field and I think we will see a real positive in that department.”

Starting a season with a bonus-point win is always nice. Conceding two tries in the final quarter of the game, there were plenty of positives for the Exiles, who weathered an early storm before registering three first-half scores.

It was another afternoon in the capital where the club’s attacking flair was on show for all to see. It has been their attractive style of rugby that has allowed Irish to settle back into London so quickly after 20 years in Reading.

Now the club’s focus is not merely on bringing in the numbers; it is to be a winning side.  

“Moving to Brentford, we had to play an entertaining style of rugby,” Davis said. “We wanted to capture a new audience going back to London and I think, arguably, London Irish were everyone’s second-favourite team to watch on the TV because we did play an exciting brand and we did run ourselves down cul-de-sacs at times and put a lot of pressure on ourselves by the way we played the game but we also accepted that was where we wanted to go.

“We wanted to back ourselves and sometimes it came off and a lot of times we had to chase our tails and chase back draws when seemingly the game was gone. Chasing down a lead is sometimes a little bit easier because you have got nothing to lose and the team that are in it back off a little bit with their intensity.

“We’re looking at how we can manage the game a little bit better in terms of our energy, but also then support that with a lot more resilience in our defence. 

“I think there is some big improvements we have made in our defence. We put a spotlight on it in the off-season and realistically the top two teams – the teams that played in the Premiership final – were two of the most pragmatic teams in the competition that relied on set-piece, relied on kick, relied on chase, didn’t play too much rugby in their own half and they battled it out.

“Arguably the most entertaining sides in us, Northampton and Quins [Harlequins], their game wasn’t good enough to get to the final. In all truth, I think it is probably getting a balance of both to really push us into more opportunities where we can be in contention to win silverware.”