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INTERVIEW: London Irish prepared for visit of ‘unpredictable’ Bayonne in European Challenge Cup

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Conor Gilsenan

LONDON Irish flanker Conor Gilsenan emphasised the importance of cup competitions as the Exiles prepare to host Bayonne in the European Challenge Cup on Saturday. 

Irish made a disappointing start to their Europeaan Challenge Cup campaign last weekend as they suffered a new 20–16 defeat away at Scarlets.

Despite the defeat, Gilsenan stressed the importance of coming away from Wales with a losing bonus point.

“The performance was strong against Scarlets so it was bitterly disappointing to come up short in the end,” said Gilsenan. 

“There were some areas that we know we can improve such as the line out, and we weren’t clinical enough at taking some points early in the match. 

“But there were also lots of positives to take out of the game, the centres were excellent and there were several standout performances amongst the team .

“Taking an away losing bonus point in an away European game isn’t the end of the world, we’ve had situations in the past where we’ve been able to qualify from groups by taking bonus points away from home and winning our home matches.”

The back row forward is expecting a tough test against French side Bayonne on Saturday as Irish look to kickstart their European campaign. 

“We will be looking to get five points on Saturday that is for sure. We’ve had a good look at them throughout the last week and assessed their weak points that we are hoping to exploit,” continued Gilsenan.

“They are a typical French side who are very unpredictable, they’ve got lots of big lads throughout their team but we have developed a plan in place to try and nullify them.” 

Irish have won two of their four Gallagher Premiership games this season, but Gilsenan insisted that the cup competitions are just as important for the Exiles. 

“The cup competitions are huge for us this season. We’ve been beaten late on in a couple of the cup games. We’ve got a really strong squad this season so we want to go as far as we possibly can in this competition. 

“It’s important for us to get our home form in order this season as that’s something that has cost us in previous seasons when we’ve been in the Premiership. 

“We were brilliant against Leicester a couple of weeks back in the league and that’s the kind of performance we will be looking to replicate on Saturday.

“We always want to give the home fans something positive to shout about because their support is amazing, they are so loud every time so we want to give back to them.

“With it being the last season at the Madejski, that gives us an extra motivation and it something that Declan speaks about quite a lot.

“We know that we need to give the Madejski a proper send off before we leave because all of the fans from Reading and further afield that come to support us deserve it.”

Gilsenan praised the quality throughout the squad and the added quality that new signings over the summer have brought to the club. 

“The new players have been drip fed in, some of them joined in pre-season, and some of them in the last few weeks. It’s been great to get new faces in to add extra competition and have fresh eyes looking at what we work on.” 

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