Carl Kirwan knows only too well the size of the task that awaits London Welsh at table topping Rotherham on Saturday, as the Exiles and the Titans put their 100 per cent records on the line at Clifton Lane (kick-off 3pm).
No stranger to Rotherham, Kirwan spent two years at the Titans before joining Welsh in the summer and going on to play a leading role in the Exiles’ winning start to the season, not least with a crucial solo try in the win at Nottingham.
On the eve of returning to his former stomping ground, the flanker is therefore well aware just difficult it will be for the Exiles to keep their unbeaten run in tact at Clifton Lane, but it’s a challenge he’s looking forward to.
“I’m definitely looking forward to going back there, for the crowd and just the experience of playing against an old club,” he said. “I’m really relishing the opportunity.
“Rotherham have made a really good start to the season. They’ve a new coach and I think they’re trying to change how they play, but we just got look at ourselves.
“Clifton Lane can be a very difficult place to go but when I was there and playing against London Welsh, they got in to the Rotherham game plan. It was slow ball and a very windy day, and London Welsh turned Rotherham over. It was a hard fought match.”
That came in Welsh’s last visit to Clifton Lane in January 2012, when the Exiles overturned a 20-7 deficit to win 21-20 – a result credited as a key turning point in the club’s Championship winning season.
Kirwan was in his first season at the Titans, having been spotted by former Rotherham coach Andre Bester while playing for Yorkshire Under 20s. He’d previously been plying his trade with his hometown club Middlesbrough in National Three North, having come through the Academy at Newcastle Falcons.
He put in a man of the match display on his Rotherham debut against Moseley, scoring twice, and capped his first year by being named Young Player of the Season. He’s made a similar impact to life at London Welsh.
“I’m really enjoying it; everything about the set up and the team is top class. It’s a really good environment,” he said.
Having started Welsh’s wins over Bedford Blues and Nottingham, Kirwan came off the bench in last weekend’s 40-9 victory over Plymouth Albion at the Kassam Stadium, as the Exiles made it three wins from three. However, Kirwan believes there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
“We’ve got three wins but our basic skills haven’t been good enough. We’re disappointed about that and the lads have been working hard in training,” he said.
“We know what we’re doing wrong and we’re picking up on it every week, and things can only get better. But Plymouth threw everything at us and we still got what we wanted from the game, which was the five points.”
That on the back of head coach Justin Burnell making nine changes for the visit of Plymouth, and Kirwan believes that’s testament to the strength in depth within this current London Welsh squad.
“We go into every game with the mentality that we’re going to win, no matter how we change the team,” he said.
“The people who come in make a massive impact – the squad is that strong and has that much depth. We made nine changes against Plymouth and we still got the bonus-point, which is huge.”
A feature of the Exiles’ win over Plymouth was once again the performance of the Welsh pack in the scrum, and Kirwan is anticipating another huge forwards battle on Saturday.
“The scrum for us is huge, it’s massive, but obviously teams are going to come at us in that area so we’ve got to keep on improving. Nothing’s perfect and there’s room for improvement there,” he said.
“You’re not going to get a team roll over and just give us the scrum – it doesn’t happen in rugby. They’re going to come out and it’s going to be a test up front - every team wants to test you up front.”