London Irish make their official return to the capital on Sunday when they host Leicester for their opening home game at the Brentford Community Stadium.
Irish ended a 20-year stay at Reading’s Madejski Stadium last season to become joint tenants of the capital’s newest venue, which can hold 17,250 fans, and brings the club closer to their original supporter base.
The Exiles left their atmospheric ground at The Avenue in Sunbury 21 years ago to comply with Premiership stadia regulations and spent a season playing at The Stoop before upping sticks to Berkshire in 2000.
While the club did enjoy some success while being based in Reading, including victory in the 2002 Powergen Cup final, finishing runners-up in the Premiership final in 2009 and reaching the European Cup semi-finals in 2008, attendances tailed off badly in recent years with less than 6,000 fans turning up for some league matches.
Irish coach Les Kiss tipped his side to bounce back from the 11-10 season-opening defeat to Worcester last Saturday against Leicester, who kicked-off their campaign with a fine 38-15 win over Gloucester.
The eight-time Premiership champions, who edged out Irish 10-9 in the biggest game in the club’s history at Twickenham 11 years ago, finished second-bottom last season – one place below Kiss’ team – but the Australian said beating the Tigers on Sunday would represent a huge scalp for his team.
“When I saw the first game was Leicester I had a nice feeling about it,” Kiss said.
“They are one of the great clubs in English rugby and what their home ground means to them is what we hope can happen to us.
“I know they are not the same as the Leicester side back in the day, but if we can get a ‘W’ next to our name against them in our first game that would be be a nice photo to put on the wall.
“When you watch their game from last week they were impressive. They suffocated Gloucester and they are a club they have a lot of pride about themselves and will be a very tough opponent.”
Despite their new modern surroundings, Kiss is mindful that a shiny new stadium means nothing if the team can’t perform on the pitch.
“Facilities don’t win you anything, it’s about effort and understanding your roles on the field,” he said.
“But we have to recognise the effort that has gone in to get us there and appreciate how important it is for London Irish to put ourselves back in the London market.
“We’re all very excited.”
Kiss said All Blacks’ World Cup-winning wing Waisake Naholo and Australia second-rower Adam Coleman will be sidelined for at least another three weeks as they recovery from knee and shoulder surgery respectively.
Squad: Tom Homer, Ben Loader, Curtis Rona, Billy Meakes, Ollie Hassell-Collins, Paddy Jackson, Ben Meehan; Allan Dell, Agustin Creevy, Sekope Kepu, George Nott, Andrei Mahu, Sean O’Brien, Blair Cowan, Matt Rogerson (capt).
Replacements: Motu Matu’u, Harry Elrington, Ollie Hoskins, Chunya Munga, Steve Mafi, Nick Phipps, Theo Brophy Clews, Tom Parton.