TOP BAR - Fixtures

Topsy Ojo relishing Exiles return to Aviva Premiership Rugby action at HQ

Topsy Ojo relishing Exiles return to Aviva Premiership Rugby action at HQ

Topsy Ojo believes there could be no more fitting way for London Irish to announce their return as an Aviva Premiership Rugby club than taking on Harlequins at Twickenham.

Irish topped the Championship table before overcoming Doncaster Knights and Yorkshire Carnegie in the play-offs to seal promotion last term, 12 months on from relegation to the second tier.

On the opening weekend of the 2017-18 season, they go head-to-head with Harlequins as part of the London Double Header (kick-off 4.30pm) with reigning European champions Saracens also meeting Northampton Saints on Saturday 2nd September.

And former England winger Ojo cannot wait to reward his side’s fans with an occasion to savour at rugby HQ.

“Starting with Harlequins; there’s almost no better way. A local derby is a great way to start the season,” said the 32-year-old, who is Irish’s leading try-scorer.

“We’ve had a number of great battles over the year and it’ll be good to get that going again.

“The Double Header is huge. It’s a great occasion. Playing at Twickenham is special at any time, whether you’ve played there a number of times or it’s your first occasion.

“It’s bound to be a packed house and I know our fans will be there in numbers.

“It’ll be great for us to thank the fans because they were huge for us last year in getting us promoted. The travelling support was unreal up and down the country.

“Having them back in Twickenham to say, ‘We’re back to the Aviva Premiership’ – it will be good and the boys will be itching to put in a performance for them as well.”

Irish were forced to battle their way back to English rugby’s top table after finishing bottom of the pile in the 2015-16 league season, but returned in style at the end of last year.

And priority number one now they are back in the Aviva Premiership is of course staying there, with Ojo adamant that he and his team-mates have learned all the necessary lessons as they aim to hit the ground running.

He said: “I think, as a squad we’ve matured. The big thing we’ve learned is just how tough this league is. We can’t afford to make as many mistakes as we did previously.

“Your defence has to be so much better because the attacks are and early on, you can’t afford to get left behind because if you’re playing catch up later in the season, teams get stronger later in the season.

“You don’t want to get left behind because you start thinking about ‘what-ifs’ and start focusing on other things rather than yourselves and where you can go – that will be huge for us.

“You don’t want that monkey on your back early on. The league is so strong and competitive.

“Teams are scrapping every week for points. You need something early doors to get confidence and momentum, and to try and kick on through the season.”

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