Declan Kidney knows only too well that Covid-19 can badly affect rugby players, regardless of the perception that the virus is mainly a threat to the elderly. “I would not wish the illness I have seen with some of the players on anyone at another club,” says London Irish’s director of rugby.
London Irish face Harlequins at the Stoop for their first match since before Christmas following an outbreak of coronavirus at the club that forced the closure of their training ground. “Some were hit hard by it. It was a demanding couple of weeks, far busier than when we were playing, and it is good to have a match to look forward to.”
Irish’s matches against Bath and Northampton were cancelled. They picked up two points from each, which took them into this weekend’s round of matches three points above the bottom club, Gloucester, who had played all their five games.
Asked if relegation would be fair this season with the league table in danger of not reflecting form if matches continue to be cancelled, Kidney says: “A league table does normally show form, but luck can play a part depending on your injuries and when they occur. You could consider Covid to be a type of injury, if in a much bigger way.
“We all went into the competition knowing what the system was. I would not want to see any club affected by the virus, no matter what advantage it gave just. With swings and roundabouts, you hope it will balance itself out by the end of the season.”
Irish finished their home programme last season at the Stoop but did not secure a victory. Quins have yet to record a “home” win on their own ground this season, losing to Exeter, Racing 92 and Bristol. Although they won at the Stoop in an “away” match against Irish in September, their last home victory was in August and visiting teams are finding more joy in all competitions with matches played behind closed doors.
“It is very different,” says Irish’s Scotland flanker, Blair Cowan. “When we first played without crowds, I found it bizarre, especially in the first 10 minutes. When someone did something before, like a line break, the crowd would erupt and you would react to that. You lose a bit of reaction in the silence and sometimes ask yourself what is happening.”
The 35-year-old, who joined Irish in 2013 and has signed up for next season, adds: “It is a big change and you have to adapt. It is why players who are not in the match day 23 are being brought into grounds now and, along with the water-boys, the more noise and energy they generate, the better we play.”