Ben Loader interview: London Irish’s veterans and youngsters feeling at home in Brentford

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Will Macpherson
·3-min read
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 (PA)
(PA)

The identity of London Irish’s freewheeling side settling into life back in the Big Smoke is of a worldly band of veterans blending their experience as Wallabies, Pumas, Kiwis and more.

The back three, though, defies the stereotype. Wings Ben Loader and Ollie Hassell-Collins and full-back Tom Parton were all born within a year of each other in 1998/99 and in the south of England. All three played together in the club’s academy and are now settled in the first team, having played upwards of 40 games.

They might find themselves on England’s radar before long too, especially as Eddie Jones is likely to experiment in the summer Tests.

“We’ve come through the ranks together,” Loader tells Standard Sport. "I’ve played with Dolly and Ollie since I was about 15.

“We know each other well, we’re great mates off the field and I think that translates on the field. You can really see how well we understand each other, play off each other, and celebrate each others’ success. It’s so great to see and the more we can be involved and get our hands on the ball, that’s super exciting.”

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The trio line up together for Irish in the first London derby at the Brentford Community Stadium tomorrow. Harlequins come packed with experience, with Mike Brown making his 350th appearance for the club and Danny Care his 300th. Captain Stephan Lewies returns from injury on the bench.

Irish also possess huge experience, though. Loader says the opportunity to learn off the likes of All Black Waisake Naholo, who is close to a return from serious injury, is invaluable.

“We have a great mix and balance, the experienced guys like Sean O’Brien, Rob Simmons, club legends like Blair Cowan,” he says. “They have been there and done that, and offer clear heads.

“Couple that with the young boys coming through, both in the forwards and backs. It’s super exciting to play with these guys and train with them day in, day out. I’ve played 50 games but I still feel I’m in the early stages of my career and that I have so much to learn. Learning off those guys, like Naholo, it’s so valuable.”

Irish have settled fast at their new home, and Loader is expecting a fast-paced high-scoring game in the spring sun from two teams who like to throw the ball about. Both sides are chasing play-off spots, with Irish sixth, nine points behind fourth-placed Quins.

“It felt like home after one game,” he says. “We wanted to stamp our authority on it. We’ve had a lot of good results at home, and made it into a fortress, which is what we set out to do.

“The one thing that’s missing is the fans but the sooner they are back the better. It already feels like home and it’s a fantastic place to play. It’s a shame they’re not here yet, this is one of those games they would have pencilled in on the calendar at the state of the season, they tend to be crackers.”

Loader, who is doing a history degree at Birkbeck, University of London and whose brother Danny plays football for Porto, is optimistic that he can force his way into Eddie Jones’s thoughts in the coming years. For now, though, he is concentrating on life with Irish.

“Like any young English rugby player, it’s the dream,” he says. “I’m very realistic. If those opportunities arise, that’s a bonus. I know there’s plenty to work on in my personal game before that stuff happens. Keep doing the business for Irish and I might be in the conversation.”

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