Following a disappointing campaign where they just won four of their 22 league games, the Exiles were relegated from the Premiership for the first time in their long and famous history. And Tonks says one of the key things for this season is learning how to win a match again.
Dusting yourself off from such a set-back is far from easy but Tonks only wants to be looking up and refuses to dwell on any negativity from last season and the fallout of Tom Coventry’s sacking as director of rugby. Instead, Tonks is looking forward to happier Monday mornings telling The Rugby Paper: “It was a disappointing end to last season but it’s onwards and upwards from now on.
“There’s been a lot of restructuring and a lot of things have changed. Everyone around the place is pretty positive and we’re all very looking forward to getting stuck in and getting this club back up.
“We can’t dwell on what happened last year – we’ll use the frustration of being relegated as motivation. It’s a new season and we have to look forward. We want to go straight back up and there’s no two ways about it. The pressure will be on us from the off and we’ll have to deal with it.
“It’ll be important for us to start well and build some momentum as early as we can. We know it’s not going to be an easy season and playing Doncaster first up will be a big challenge. We saw what they did in the final against Bristol last season. We’ll be the team everyone wants to beat and they’ll all step up their game against us.
“But hopefully Monday mornings will be a lot nicer at the club and we will be coming in to training on the back of a win more often than not.
“We have to focus on winning every game to build confidence and develop that winning habit. People get used to winning and knowing what it takes to win a game is key. That’s what we’ll be trying to do every week.”
The Exiles broke up pre-season at Hezelwood last week to go on a team bonding camp in Wales.It was also a chance to get to know their new director of rugby and his staff better.
Nick Kennedy took over from Coventry during the summer, with fellow club legends Declan Danaher and Paul Hodgson, and last year’s club captain George Skivington, also part of the coaching set up.
Former second row Kennedy, who played 217 games for the Exiles, retired only two years ago to take charge of the club’s successful academy.
He has no experience of coaching at senior level but Tonks is adamant he has what it takes to make Irish successful again.
He added: “I really like the set up now and we’ve got a good environment. I didn’t really know Nick last year because he was involved with the academy. He’s got a lot of experience as a player and he’s been a big part of London Irish for the past few years. He’s only recently retired and he’s got some very good ideas on how to make the team perform.
“He might not have the coaching experience at the highest level yet but it’s great the club has trusted him and given him a chance.”
One of Kennedy’s first decisions as DoR was to decide who will lead his attack and Tonks reveals he is that man.
The former Northampton full-back joined from Edinburgh last year and he will be the one marshalling the troops after a successful conversion to No10 while in Scotland.
Tonks said: “I’ll be predominantly playing fly-half this season which I’m very happy about. I gradually switched to 10 over the last couple of years at Edinburgh and I ended up playing for Scotland against Ireland in the World Cup warm up last year in the 10 shirt.
“I’ve always known I could play in that position but it was more a case of filling in when needed in the past. But the more it happened the more I enjoyed it so I fully focussed on it.
“The game management is the main difference. You’re more involved in the front-end decision making and it’s my job to make sure everyone is where they need to be and that the game flows nicely. At full-back you’re focussing more on an individual role reacting to what the midfield is doing or the outside backs.”
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