London Scottish director plots landmark season
The setting is peaceful. The drone of planes overhead and the shouts of the London Scottish coaches are the only noises that punctuate the serenity of the historic Athletic Ground in Richmond on a fine autumn afternoon.
But the tranquillity of the surroundings only serves as a direct contradiction to the furious competitiveness and unwavering concentration being demanded of the players on the pitch.
That is because the athletes being put through their drills are at the forefront of what could be the most momentous season in The Exiles’ recent history.
Mike Friday, director of rugby at London Scottish, is happy to talk about the season ahead. The former England rugby sevens captain is also currently head coach of the USA Sevens team, and conveys an infectious knowledge and passion for his sport.
Now in his second season with the Championship side, Friday was involved as a member of the coaching staff last year and now appears at ease in his new directorial role.
“There have been a few hiccups along the way, but the players are moulding nicely and growing into quite a competent team," he said.
The director is being modest. Scottish won four of their first five games of the season and currently sit in third place in the Championship.
“It’s been a good start. We have had a good mixture of attacking forward play as well as attacking back play and the squad as a whole have contributed.”
Despite the positive start, he is keen to point out that certain improvements must be made if the club are to finish in one of the four available playoff places.
“It’s still a work in progress. Our defence as a team needs to improve and we recognise that, there are also certain elements of our unit play in attack that we need to get better at.”Our target is to get a ticket to the party, which is the Championship playoffs”
The possibility of securing a playoff spot, which would bring Scottish the opportunity of a lucrative promotion into English rugby’s top tier, will certainly get fans excited.
The club were only promoted to the Championship in 2011 and have never reached the Premiership before.
However, during their glorious 136-year history, The Exiles have produced no less than four British & Irish Lions captains.
Friday sees this season as one of huge opportunity and believes that the playoffs are a realistic goal for Scottish.
“Our target is to get a ticket to the party, which is the Championship playoffs,” he said.
“We’re a small squad with small resources and we’ve got to make the best of what we’ve got.
"This year we’ve bolstered the squad in the front five area to give us more resilience and resolve in that department and we think we’re now better equipped as a squad.”
However, he warned that they should still be considered underdogs to the likes of Bristol and Worcester.
“Their resources, their squads and the infrastructure they have in place is second to none – it’s Premiership material already,” said Friday.
In a sport as fiercely physical as rugby union, injuries will always play a big part in the aspirations of any side over the course of a season.
While admitting that his squad is already at the bare bones due to injuries, there is a sense of quiet confidence that emanates from the former head coach of the England and Kenya Sevens teams.
“We’re in there fighting with the big boys and we have to try and be sure we get ourselves into the Championship playoffs,” he said.
“Then you’re into cup final rugby and anything can happen.”
With more of the desire and commitment that has been displayed during London Scottish’s early-season matches, they will be more than capable of securing a top four spot.
A man with Mike Friday’s wealth of experience will only be an asset for the club as they look to continue their fast-paced rise through the tiers of English rugby.