Tom Pearson interview: London Irish star hails ‘big mentality shift’ in Premiership play-off race

Test class: England are keeping a close eye on London Irish back-rower Tom Pearson  (Getty Images)
Test class: England are keeping a close eye on London Irish back-rower Tom Pearson (Getty Images)

Tom Pearson spent lockdown helping grow his parents’ garden centre business, but now the in-bloom flanker is intent on cultivating London Irish’s Premiership play-off push.

The 23-year-old has blossomed into a back-row forward brimming with Test class, with England continuing to monitor his progress closely.

Pearson grew up in Hereford and graced Luctonians’ junior ranks alongside twin brother Will, who now turns out for the Leominster club’s first XV in National Two West.

From Cheltenham’s Dean Close School to a vital developmental phase at Cardiff Metropolitan University, Pearson has quickly stamped his bullish authority on the Premiership at Irish.

But sandwiched in between his Exiles debut and that sports science degree in Wales, Pearson headed home to help out the family business in Hereford.

“My parents own Radway Bridge Garden Centre just outside Hereford,” Pearson told Standard Sport. “They’ve built it up gradually over the years, initially buying a plot of land probably 21 years ago now.

“There’s now a cafe, an antiques shop, and franchises for things like upholstery and landscaping. I did work there over lockdown, I did the best part of nine months there, deliveries, click and collect that kind of thing.

“It’s a family affair because my twin brother runs the cafe. So I’ll pop over for a bit of lunch and stuff and tell him to stick it on the tab!

“It started off as a plant nursery to be honest, and they’ve grown it into something far bigger, as my brother and I have grown up with it.

“Both sets of grandparents are farmers. Dad was always more interested in agriculture if I’m honest, but he went down the horticultural route, as did Mum, that’s how they met.

“They had a small garden centre in Ledbury, then bought this just outside of Hereford. I would work in the shop at points, especially over Christmas with the trees being a big thing.

“Luctonians is a great club, successful and with a good culture on and off the pitch, it was great playing together with Will for a long time growing up. He used to be a front-rower but is now a converted back-rower, he’s loving that switch.”

Pearson has already come a long way from a school career guided by Andrew Stanley, who played nearly 200 games for Gloucester, to building bulk gradually at Cardiff Met.

The combative loose-forward was drafted into England’s 2022 Six Nations squad after just a handful of top-flight games, having made his Premiership debut in October 2021.

London Irish are currently three points adrift of the top four down in seventh (Getty Images)
London Irish are currently three points adrift of the top four down in seventh (Getty Images)

Already one of Irish's standout performers, Pearson has only continued that rapid progress this season to typify the Exiles' resurgent form. Six wins in eight Premiership games have transformed a frustrating start into a campaign of note.

One of the closest Premiership play-off races leaves Irish still in with a shout of a top-four finish, with Sunday’s trip to Newcastle another pivotal encounter.

“All of a sudden you start jumping up the table and before you know it, you’re up in fifth and contending for a play-off spot,” said Pearson, of Irish’s fine recent run.

“Home form has really helped us. There’s some big wins like the one over Saracens, that set up a really good run there. You've got to be on your mettle every week in the Premiership, you’re up against pretty much world-class back-rowers every week.

“Once you have the ball rolling, pushing that rock down the hill, you have to make it hard to stop. There will be obstacles, but if you can keep it rolling it becomes harder and harder to stop.

It’s been a really big mental shift for us, winning the key moments in big games

“We felt it was our time to win some games and come through and be the better team in that last period of matches. It’s been a really big mental shift for us, winning the key moments in big games.”

Irish will look to capitalise on the remaining home games against Sale, Northampton and Exeter, with the Saints clash on Saturday, March 25 this year’s designated St Patrick’s Party.

“Every time we play at the Gtech Community Stadium it gets louder and louder,” said Pearson. “We want to sell out or go very close for the St Patrick’s Day game, and the games recently have been great events.

“I think it’s a top experience for people who have followed London Irish for years, but also for people coming out to get a taste for Premiership Rugby in London.

“We’re playing a really fun brand of attacking rugby, but we’ve built a very solid set-piece too. We’re very confident in our structure that we can score points, but we’ve solidified other areas too and it’s making a difference.”

London Irish will host the annual St Patrick’s Party in the Gallagher Premiership clash with Northampton on March 25. For tickets, log onto: