Director of rugby Declan Kidney admits London Irish couldn’t have asked for a more difficult or exciting opponent to welcome fans back to the Brentford Community Stadium than European champions Exeter.
On Tuesday, four thousand supporters will flock to the Exiles’ new home ground – the biggest attendance in the stadium’s brief history – for what will be a hugely difficult test for the out-of-form hosts.
Both Irish and Brentford enjoyed one game where 2,000 fans were allowed in the ground in December – but after 15 months of playing in front of empty seats Kidney said he hopes it will be a night to remember.
“It will be special to have fans back in and to play a top-class team such as Exeter will be a real challenge us,” Kidney said.
“But that is why you get into this job and we will have to be on our A game and we look forward to challenging ourselves against the best.”
After an excellent start to the season, Irish have lost their last four matches, including a 52-27 thrashing by second-bottom Newcastle last Saturday.
Last week the club announced the re-signing of Australian internationals Curtis Rona and Nick Phipps and Kidney said their presence will continue to help the progress of young stars such as Ollie Haskell-Collins, Tom Parton and Ben Loader, who have enjoyed excellent seasons.
“We needed a mixture of guys in the second part of their career so our fellas coming up through the ranks can learn from them,” he said.
“You need that to progress as a club and you will meet bumps in the road and at Newcastle last week, we were well short of our A game and they got a good result against us.”
Kidney believes his side’s success this season has put a bigger target on their back, having been perennial strugglers in recent spells in the top division.
“Clubs are paying more attention to us now, analyse the way we play and that is another challenge for us,” he said.
“Things we were maybe surprising them with before we’re not anymore.”
Kidney said the rise of Exeter, who only became a top-flight club 10 years ago and are now the best team in Europe, is something for his club to aspire to.
“If you look at Exeter’s trajectory over the years, they have improved year on year, but it is the way they have improved on the most minutiae of detail with each season which is impressive,” he said.
“Our bigger building blocks are in place, we just need to get better at fine tuning the small details.”