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Van der Merwe revved up for Exiles’ Gallagher Premiership Rugby return

Van der Merwe revved up for Exiles’ Gallagher Premiership Rugby return

With the countdown to the new Gallagher Premiership Rugby season well under way, Franco van der Merwe believes there has never been a more exciting time to be a London Irish player.

The Exiles secured their return to the English top flight at the first attempt last season, finishing at the summit of the Championship after winning 20 of their 22 games in the second tier.

It was their second promotion in the past three years and means Irish will enjoy Gallagher Premiership Rugby in their final season playing home matches at the Madejski Stadium.

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And with the move to Brentford’s new Community Stadium on the horizon next year, Van der Merwe reckons their opening fixture against Wasps cannot come soon enough.

“It’s been a long season for us. It’s been a long year and getting back to Premiership Rugby was really exciting,” he said.

“We’re in a good space now to prep well in this pre-season.

“Everything will go into that first game against Wasps, so I think the guys are slowly getting pretty excited about that first game now the fixtures have come out.

“We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves but we are pretty excited for the first Premiership Rugby game, especially as it will be against a good side like Wasps at the Ricoh Arena.

“We had a couple of interesting clubs we played at last season, so to be back in a big stadium and generate so much energy and excitement for the guys will be great.

“We have unbelievable fans considering where we played last season and we still had fans turning up in their thousands, so that was really good to see.

“They are just as excited, if not even more so than the players, to be back in Premiership Rugby and hopefully, we can fill the stadium for that first home game against Sale.”

The Exiles will need to get up to speed quickly as they will make the short trip to Allianz Park in Round Three to take on defending Gallagher Premiership Rugby champions Saracens.

But rather than being daunted at the prospect of an early visit to the reigning European champions, Van der Merwe believes it will be a perfect litmus test to see where Irish are at.

“It’s always good to play against Saracens as they have had an unbelievable couple of seasons and have done well in pretty much any competition they’ve played in,” said the South African lock.

“That’s what we train for, to play against the best, and I’m sure the guys will be looking forward to challenging themselves and playing Saracens as it should be a good game.”

And although Van der Merwe has lofty ambitions for the Exiles on their return to the Gallagher Premiership Rugby action, he concedes that safety remains the number one priority.

“Our season ended quite early last year compared to Premiership Rugby, so we came in mid-June and started pre-season already – but we will soon be going into our second phase,” he said.

“Training has been really good and there’s a good buzz, a good energy, and the guys have been working hard. It’s been a typical pre-season and it has been tough.

“It’s always easy to say where you want to go. Everyone wants to play in the play-offs but we are realistic about this season and we are prepping to be the best team we can be for this year.

“We have spoken a lot about what we’re about as a club but those things, if you take it game by game, will look after themselves.

“There is so many exciting developments for London Irish in the future. In the next couple of seasons, we’re moving to a new stadium, we’ve had good signings over the summer.

“We definitely want to stay up in Premiership Rugby. We will take it game by game and hopefully, we can get some good momentum early and keep that going.”

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