There’s a legacy here and we want to build on it! Theo Brophy Clews on the future of London Irish.
After years in the planning, London Irish returned to London a couple of weeks ago. A week later they were able to welcome fans back to the game too. Now they’re on a short break from league action to focus on Europe. It’s all go for the club so we caught up with Theo Brophy Clews to dig into the mood in camp ahead of a trip to Agen.
Our call takes place a little later than expected, Theo has been making the most of a patch of pleasant weather in an otherwise wet week to head out onto the training pitches at Sunbury and get some kicking practice in.
He’s been more likely to pop up as a 12 in recent appearances for London Irish, but Theo came through the ranks as a fly-half with great promise. “The way a lot of teams are going, the way rugby is going, you have to be versatile” he tells me. “Whether it’s strategic moves from coaches or what happens naturally I’m open to playing both roles and I love the different aspects of them. I still firmly see myself as a ball player and a kicking option, so whether I’m at 10 or 12 I want to bring my strengths to the team. Wherever they need me I’m happy to help out!”
Brophy Clews has been named in the 23 for both games since Irish kicked off their tenure at Brentford and, like everyone else I’ve spoken to from the club, cannot speak highly enough of their new home. “It’s been an unbelievable experience. Obviously we’re gutted about how the game on the weekend finished up “he remarks, pausing to dwell on a tough loss to a physical Sale Sharks team. “We’re all grateful to be part of the squad that has moved back to London. I think we all appreciate, and especially the boys who have been at the club longer, that as Declan says we’re very fortunate to be the squad that made the move.”
“We had a few training sessions and a team run there, all building to playing Leicester and we had a brilliant win there.” Brophy Clews was unlucky to be an unused substitute in the game against Tigers, but was back in the line-up the next week. “To get on the pitch for the first time against Sale was awesome. Having people back helps you realize what you play for. I had my dad in the stands watching as well, so that was a nice reminder of why we do what we do. It was brilliant to give some entertainment to all the fans who have supported us all year!”
London Irish have five points from three games so far and sit seventh in the table, they would no doubt like to be higher and but for a couple of twists of fate they likely would be. When the 2019-20 season restarted Declan Kidney made the choice to get injured players into surgery and use the games – knowing the team was safe due to Saracens relegation – to blood young players and to try and build a way of playing the game that suited the team at his disposal.
“We were disappointed with the performances on the pitch during the restart, We felt like we hadn’t made the most of the time off and were chasing our tails a little bit, whereas we’ve come back in and the cumulative effort has lead to an expectation that we improve the way we want to play and that we’re competing. At the least we’re competing and being in with a shout of a win, but we need to learn to win more so it’s good to see we’re starting to put out some good performances, but especially that we’re building an expectation that we perform to that level. It doesn’t feel like a fluke when we compete against top team so for me that shows real development as a squad. We know there’s a long way to go but there’s a lot of growing room so we’re all pretty excited!”
For a young man, Theo has always been a voice of reason and experience. He’s now one of the veterans in an Irish side that has undergone a lot of change in the past 18 months or so. “I was reflecting on this a bit last season as I made my 50th appearance for the club. The amount of people who have been through the club and had an effect on me as a player, and on the team as a whole. There have been so many great people here and we want to continue to build on the legacy of what has gone before. The 2009-2011 period… we want to bring that back!” Brophy Clews speaks about the history at Irish as someone who feels deeply invested in it and passionate about leaving his stamp on proceedings.
“I’ve loved my time here, through ups and downs, but I think that journey, those upss & downs, are what makes a club. I feel like a bit of an old man, even at 23… the club were posting that our last game against Agen was five years ago today. I made my debut in that season and played in that game. I feel like I’ve been here a long time but I love it and I still want to improve here and carry on representing the club!”
Those five years have seen heaps of change for Irish, with two trips down to the Championship coinciding with the club’s decision to move back to the capital. There were times when the future looked pretty bleak for the Exiles, a situation Agen can probably relate to as they sit rock bottom of the Top 14, but like a wounded animal they’re dangerous and it’s clear Irish are taking them seriously. “French teams in France… they’re all physical and very proud. If you rock up expecting an easy ride you’ll get burnt! They’ve got a lot of physical players so we’ll need to front up. We think we can hurt them by moving our point of attack and using our really good ballplayers as attacking threats. The truth is we’re not entirely sure what to expect but we know if we front up early and play the way we want we’ll put in a good performance out there.”
One thing is for sure, in Brophy Clews the younger players coming through the ranks at Hazelwood have a great person to model themselves on. He’s had his share of issues with injury but if recent appearances are anything to go by he’s maturing into an excellent playmaker in the backline and it would be no surprise to me to see him become a key part of the Irish backline for many years to come.