London Irish RFC is an English rugby union club based in Sunbury, Surrey, where the senior squad train, the youth teams and senior academy play home games, and the club maintain their administrative offices. The club competes in the top division of English rugby union, the Aviva Premiership. The club also compete in the Anglo-Welsh Cup as well as one of the two Europe-wide club competitions—the Heineken Cup or European Challenge Cup, depending on their performance in the previous season. The club will continue to play their home games at the Madejski Stadium in Reading, Berkshire until 2026.
The team plays in green and white colours, with a reversed away strip. London Irish won its first major trophy in 2002, claiming the Powergen Cup (the competition that later became the Anglo-Welsh Cup). Irish also reached the final of the 2009 Guinness Premiership, narrowly losing 10–9 to Leicester Tigers at Twickenham Stadium. In the 2007/08 season the team came close to a place in the Heineken Cup Final losing out to Stade Toulousain 15–21 in a tense semi-final encounter at Twickenham Stadium. The club's mascot is an Irish Wolfhound called Digger.
By the late 1920s the club boasted its first "home grown" Ireland international in S J 'Cags' Cagney who won 13 caps between 1925 and 1929. The club developed a home of its own in 1931 at The Avenue in Sunbury, the first game was played on 5 December against London Welsh; the result was an honourable 8–8 draw. Although the club now play their games as tenants of Reading FC at the Madejski Stadium in Reading, the ground at Sunbury is still its spiritual home.
The 1950s was a period of mixed fortunes for London Irish. In the 1959–60 season London Irish only lost 2 games all season, featuring Ireland International players such as Andy Mulligan & Sean McDermott, Mike (C.M.H.) Gibson (played 1 game in the late 1960s), Tony O'Reilly (who played a handful of games in 1970) and Ollie Waldron (who played in the late 1960s-early 70s), all graced the Sunbury pitch.
The improving quality of fixtures demanded a change in attitude to training and playing as the sixties became the seventies. Under the leadership of the great hooker Ken Kennedy, with the assistance of exceptional players like Nick Hegarty, Mick Molloy and Barry Bresnihan, London Irish became a force to be reckoned with once more. In 1976–77 the Rugby Football Union introduced proper club merit tables and in that season London Irish finished first in the London Division with six wins out of seven. The Irish made visits to France and famously to South Africa in 1977 where the club became the first touring side to play so many mixed race teams.
In playing terms the eighties were another period of inconsistency. The first team struggled to find reliable form as work pressures made more demands on players' time making them unavailable for regular training and matches. Happily, at the lower levels and socially London Irish continued to thrive. In 1990–91 London Irish were promoted to the first division with a side containing four new Ireland internationals: Simon Geoghegan, Jim Staples, David Curtis and Rob Saunders, the youngest ever captain of his country at 22 years of age.
The harsh financial realities of playing at the top end of the game in England gradually became clear to all the country's senior clubs including London Irish in the early years of the decade. Operating losses mounted and but for the generosity of key benefactors at the time, the club would have struggled to survive. The financial struggles were reflected on the pitch where London Irish failed to make any impact in the leagues despite employing the services of a number of high profile coaches.
In 1999 London Irish merged with London Scottish and Richmond to form a new umbrella company to support the professional team which now competes in the Aviva Premiership in England. An amateur club was also formed at this time, London Irish Amateur RFC, which remains in Sunbury. The club won its first piece of silverware in 2002 by beating Northampton Saints in the Powergen Cup final at Twickenham.
All London Irish home matches are played at the Madejski. The largest crowd for a London Irish match was for a game against London Wasps on 15 March 2008 during the 2007–08 Guinness Premiership. The crowd of 23,790 was also the highest attendance for a regular season Guinness Premiership match until December 2008.
If teams are level at any stage, tiebreakers are applied in the following order:
Number of matches won
Difference between points for and against
Total number of points for
Aggregate number of points scored in matches between tied teams
Number of matches won excluding the first match, then the second and so on until the tie is settled
Green background (rows 1 to 4) are play-off places. The top six teams qualify directly for the 2014-15 Rugby Champions Cup; the seventh-placed team advances to a play-off against the seventh-placed team in Top 14 for a Champions Cup place. Red background (row 12) will be relegated if the winner of the RFU Championship meets the requirements for promotion. Updated 14 April 2014 — source: Premiership Rugby
London Irish also host London Irish Amateur RFC (a separate legal entity) for non-professionals to allow them to improve in Rugby. The team play at the location of London Irish's training ground and offices, The Avenue in Sunbury. Some players such as Justin Bishop and Kieran Campbell have come through the ranks to play for London Irish.
Digger was joined by his cousin, Duggie, from the 2006/07 season. Much taller and much slower, Duggie has proved popular with younger children attending matchdays although Digger remains the Top Dog. As well as the two mascots, there is also a real Wolfhound, Mr Doyle, who also attends the home games. Before Mr Doyle there was also another Wolfhound, Jumbo, before Jumbo retired.