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My Life in Rugby: Justin Bishop – former London Irish and Ireland winger

Justin BishopI  scored twice in the Powergen Cup final London Irish won in 2002, but I’m still not sure what my celebration was for the second try.

It was one of the only times in my career where every player from 1-22 played at their absolute best, and we beat a very good Northampton team pretty convincingly.

For me it was particularly special, scoring twice, and I kind of saluted the crowd as everyone went crazy. That was a massive deal for the club, and we didn’t hold back on the celebrations.

I’d come through at London Irish when they had a very strong Irish presence.  There were the likes of David Humphreys, Jeremy Davidson and Malcolm O’Kelly. It could have been quite intimidating for a young lad, but I’d always been fairly outgoing so it wasn’t an issue.

I’d started out at East Grinstead before moving to Irish, but with my granddad Thomas Dunn also being an Irish international, I always had that heritage.

I was eligible for England or Ireland, and I actually played age group rugby for both.

But with the really strong Irish feel at the club, and my family, it wasn’t too tough a decision in the end.

Sir Clive Woodward called me up to play for the England U21s on a tour, after I’d played in Ireland age grade teams.

I don’t have any regrets about choosing Ireland and I couldn’t have made a much better start to my international debut against South Africa. I didn’t touch the ball for the first 18 and a half minutes and then I got it and went over for a try.

Unfortunately we ended up losing, but it was an incredible experience.

Playing for Ireland in the 90s was a pretty unpredictable time, and the lowest moment definitely came in the 1999 World Cup.

We got to the play-off game against Argentina in Lens and everyone expected us to beat them.

But they were so up for it. It really rattled us, and when they scored a try in the closing stages through Diego Albanese it was probably the worst experience of my life.

That period of Irish rugby was just before things started to turn around.  Warren Gatland came in and brought some real structure, and of course it helped having Brian O’Driscoll burst onto the scene.

I had some highs and lows with London Irish. We had the Powergen Cup win, but we also found ourselves in a play-off game against Rotherham to stay up in 1998.

We lost the first leg but won the second leg to survive. It was  a wake-up call for the club, and probably led to us becoming a much stronger side at the turn of the century.

I stayed until 2008 when I joined Doncaster as a player-coach. That was a great experience, and I learned a lot in two and a half years.

After that I came back to Irish to work with the academy and the defence until last summer.

Now I’ve gone full circle and am back coaching at East Grinstead. It’s a very different challenge but something I’m enjoying. Ex-London Irish player Kieron Dawson is doing a great job at Worthing and although we are a couple of divisions below them, I’d love to think we might be able to take them on in a few seasons.

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