Matt Rogerson Exclusive: 'To be sat here approaching 100 games is something that I didn’t expect'

Saturday's game against Newcastle Falcons will be Matt Rogerson's 100th appearance for London Irish
©Pinnacle for London Irish

On Saturday afternoon when Matt Rogerson leads out London Irish against Newcastle Falcons in the Gallagher Premiership, it will be the back-row’s 100th appearance for the club.

The 29-year-old joined the Exiles in 2018 following the club’s second relegation from the top-flight in three years, but Rogerson helped the club back into the Premiership in his first season and now is one of the first names on the team sheet for Declan Kidney’s side.

He is uncompromising, rock solid in defence and in many ways the heartbeat of the team with his always consistent performances. Arriving at the club at its lowest ebb, Rogerson has seen the team move from Reading to Brentford and last year qualify for the Heineken Champions Cup for the first time in a decade.

“Probably not, no,” Rogerson said when asked if he ever thought he would make 100 appearances for London Irish. “I have been asked that a few times already this week, and I joined the club when we had just been relegated to the Championship.

“I had already signed the season prior when we weren’t relegated at that point. Then, obviously, as time went on, it turned out that Irish were going down and I was joining a Championship set-up.

“Going back four and a half years when we were in that position, my aim was just come in, try and have an impact on the team, on the environment, ultimately help the club get back into the Premiership and then anything that came after that was a bit of a bonus.

“To be sat here, four years on and approaching 100 games is something that I didn’t expect and I am very grateful to everyone that has supported me along the way to get to that point, both internally within the club, but equally family and friends who’ve rode the wave with me as well. “Yeah, it has been a bit of a journey.”

Forged at Loughborough

Rogerson’s path to becoming a top-flight player is a special one. Growing up, he was not involved in age-grade rugby before his final years of sixth form at Ripley St Thomas Church of England Academy in Lancaster. He jokes that it was only when his body began to develop into that of a rugby player, pursuits of football and golf were put on hold.

Eventually, the back-row began to get some form of recognition. Representing Lancashire and then getting a nod to play for Sale Sharks at U18 level, his rise to the fore saw Rogerson catch the eye of Loughborough University.

Rogerson says he wouldn't be where he is today without having gone to Loughborough University
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Missing most of his first year in the East Midlands with a knee injury, upon his return was when the real education at the university would begin. Playing in the weekend side in National One, it was there that Rogerson attributes much of his success up to now.

“I went and pursued my degree at what is traditionally a very sport and rugby-oriented university, and things kind of snowballed from there,” Rogerson said. “Playing at Loughborough, I mean, if I didn’t do that, I don’t think I’d be in pro rugby because I didn’t have the pathway to that as a younger guy.

“It was only via playing in the National One side with Loughborough for that two or three years that I did that opened those doors for me. They are a brilliant feeder club in a way because you have got a group of pretty hungry players between 19 and 21 all competing in a league that is semi-pro and has got ex-pros. You do learn a lot in that league.

“I think that was kind of what springboarded me into it rather than me actively going ‘I am going to go to uni and I am going to play there and I am going to be a pro’. Things just snowballed and I kind of had to go with it a bit.”

It was those weekends in National One that were Rogerson’s introduction to men’s rugby. As he mentioned, he was up against a series of players that had competed at that level for extended periods of time or were fairly recently removed from being full-time professionals.

“It is a grizzly league,” Rogerson laughed. “At the time when I was in it, there was some really old school clubs in corners of the country where no person, let alone a uni side, wants to travel to because you basically get beaten up.

“I remember going up to the North East to Tynedale and Blaydon, real old school rugby clubs with very heavy pitches with big, angry, aggressive blokes that used to come and just batter us basically. Similar to that is Wharfedale. 

“When you drive into Wharfedale, you literally go on a windy, off-the-beaten-track road, you are literally going down tractor-marked out roads, and all of a sudden you appear at this pitch at the middle of what is literally farmland. There is fields everywhere and it was honestly a bog for 90 per cent of the year.

“I remember going to play away there and you literally couldn’t do anything other than pick and go from everywhere because the ball was just so greasy. You couldn’t even see who was on your team because the shirts were so black with mud. It was impossible to even tell people apart.

“When you look back on it, they are actually really fond memories. At the time you were like ‘I am in the absolute pits of hell here’, getting battered by some 30-year-old farmer who is used to lobbing sheep around all day. Tough, grizzly away days, but brilliant craic with those lads, and on the way back was always good fun, and the night out afterwards.”

Savouring a century

Spending two seasons with Sale, much of Rogerson’s game time would come in Lytham St Annes with Fylde and after failing to break through into the first-team squad under Steve Diamond, he decided to step into the Championship with Jersey Reds.

Now, the 29-year-old is moving into his third season as London Irish’s skipper. The first was as a co-captain, but since 2021, the back-row has held the title on his own and brought all those years of experience with him.

“I have almost step laddered through the leagues,” Rogerson said, “going up each one, one at a time almost in a slightly confusing order. I got through all of them eventually. It is a bit of a rarity.

“A lot of the guys here, other than having been on loan, will of played 90 per cent of their professional rugby exclusively in the top leagues, whether that’s Premiership or it’s Super Rugby. Mine is obviously a very different pathway, quite unique compared to a lot of the other guys who do go through academies and things like that.

Both Rogerson and Ollie Hassell-Collins scored tries in Irish's 33-31 loss to Leicester Tigers last weekend
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“I am really grateful for it. It has taught me a lot of experiences and gave me a lot of experiences outside of just going through that standard pathway. I like to think I am quite rounded or level-headed as a result of that.”

That level-headedness is going to be needed in the run-up to Christmas. In the next month, Rogerson and his teammates will make their bow in the Champions Cup, their opponents coming in the form of Top 14 champions Montpellier and United Rugby Championship winners, the Stormers.

But before then is a chance to pick up a first win in the Premiership since the start of October as Newcastle Falcons come to the capital. Dave Walder’s side are in good form having beaten Gloucester and Exeter Chiefs in recent weeks so a return to the Gtech Community Stadium could well be what is needed for Irish who are planted to the bottom of the Premiership.

“When you look at it black and white and where we have been at in the last few weeks, we have had pretty much 90 per cent of our games over the last six weeks away,” Rogerson said. “I think there has only been one home game in that time.

“A lot of our games have been away in the Premiership and typically it is difficult to go away and pick up results. It is always a bit more of a challenge when you are going away from home. Not that it means we shouldn’t be getting results, but what we have done has been losing games, particularly away from home by one or two points.

“I think the concern for us would be that if you are going away, getting battered, not picking up bonus points, you are in big trouble when you are looking at that because you are looking for answers. We feel that we are performing to an extent and scoring tries and playing in a way that we feel we should be winning these games.

“The fact that we are losing by a point is showing that we are well in the mix to do that. It is just getting that final bit over the line, so the amount of bonus points and things that we are picking up is testament to how close it has been. 

“I think we know now it is that final touch to getting some of these results to go our way and particularly now we are coming back home this weekend against Newcastle and then some home games coming up after that as well. We have got a chance to really use these fixtures to build some momentum and then try and get ourselves back up the table. We don’t want to be down there.

“It doesn’t make good reading for us, but I think we know we trust in our process. We feel like we are playing good rugby and an attractive style of rugby. We are not really reinventing the wheel because some of these results are very narrowly going against us.

“It is not just understanding what we have got to do to get these over the line, which we are obviously working on week to week in training.”

This weekend, Rogerson will run out in front of his home supporters before his teammates. As captain that isn’t exactly a new thing, but he will get an extra moment to savour the applause ahead of his 100th game for the club that has allowed him to flourish.

All of the team will take part in Purple Sock Day, an initiative arranged by the club’s foundation to highlight disability inclusion on a day where the charitable arm of the Exiles will also be hosting a festival of sports inclusion at Gunnersbury Park Sports Hub.

Rogerson’s wife and son will be in West London, the rest of his family and close friends too, a small celebration of his achievement all there to support the back-row. Even so, the 29-year-old’s process must remain the same before enjoying the greater meaning of Saturday’s fixture.

“To be honest, you try and treat each game as another game because if you big it up too much, you can almost go off task of what you are meant to be doing,” Rogerson said. “From that side of things, I will treat it as another game.

“But I will definitely be trying to savour the moments that come along that I do enjoy along the way and not let it pass me by because I think a professional career in sport is short. It feels like it is going to be long at the time when you get into it, but all of a sudden the years slowly tick by and tick by and before you know it, it is gone.

“I think it would be remiss of me not to enjoy it, soak it up and I have never liked things being about me. I am not that type of person, but it is more for me to have my family and my friends there who have been such a huge support for me along the way.

“To see them happy and proud, that is what makes me proud more than anything. I am looking forward to sharing it with them as much as I can, whilst also hopefully getting a result with the boys too.”