London Irish have finished outside Aviva Premiership Rugby’s top six for the past four seasons but new head coach Tom Coventry insists his first order of business at the club is to earn the respect of the rest of the league.
Director of rugby Brian Smith departed London Irish for family reasons back in January and the Exiles went on to finish tenth – registering just seven wins from their 22 games.
Coventry was promptly named as Smith’s replacement having been assistant boss of the Chiefs in New Zealand, but only linked up with the Reading-based side at the start of the pre-season.
The 49-year-old has already set about putting his own mark on Irish and a slew of signings over the summer, including the likes of Ben Franks, Brendan McKibbin and Sean Maitland, have hopes high at the Madejski Stadium.
But Coventry insists the turnaround won’t necessarily be immediate and that the groundwork must be laid.
“Setting goals like that [finishing in the top six] is probably dangerous when you’re coming into a new club,” he said.
“I think we’ve got a long way to go before we can start putting stakes in the sand like that.
“It’s more about what we can offer this season and what people can see that we’re trying to change, and gaining more respect in the competition that maybe London Irish have lacked in the past.
“My expectation is that we grow the club, and we grow the respect that the rest of the competition has for London Irish.
“When you’ve been underperforming or feel like you haven’t reached your full potential, you need to develop a real strong club bond with the guys having pride in their performance.
“We want to produce a style of rugby that we can be proud of. Not only to be proud of playing it, but that fans of the club who come along to watch enjoy watching so they can genuinely see we are putting the effort in.
“We want to be a team that people respect, as simple as that.”
Coming from the southern hemisphere, Coventry has instituted a number of different training ideas during the pre-season.
The New Zealander admits that the players may take some time to adapt to his methods but that they will pay dividends.
London Irish will certainly have an early litmus test of their development with their first five Aviva Premiership Rugby games all coming against sides who finished in the top six last term – starting with Leicester Tigers this Sunday.
That brings to an end an extended pre-season thanks to the Rugby World Cup but Coventry believes that has actually benefitted his new troops.
“Obviously the World Cup timing has meant that it was always going to be a longer preseason, which for the players has been important with me trying to implement new systems and new game-plans,” he added.
“The time has been really valuable for the squad, and we’ve tried lots of new concepts which are coming along. It’s going to be a gradual change for the club, as obviously I am new and so are some of my ideas.
“I think some of the guys will find some of the expectations a little challenging, because there has been a lot of change, and when you make change people expect things to happen immediately.
“But I’m realistic; things are going to take time and the guys will have to work hard to learn some of the new strategies that we have in mind.
“The players have been good; open-minded and coachable. So it’s a really good process that we’re going through, but we’ve got a little way to go yet.”
The 2015-16 Aviva Premiership Rugby Season kicks off on 16 October. To see all of the fixtures click here.