By Neale Harvey
London Irish tackle fellow promotion seekers Ealing on the opening weekend of the Championship season and marquee signing Stephen Myler is relishing a hugely different Tier Two challenge to the one he cut his Union teeth in 11 years ago.
Prolific goalkicker Myler had not long joined Northampton from Salford Rugby League when they were relegated from the Premiership in 2007. However, Jim Mallinder’s side ran through the tier-two card, winning all 30 matches in a 16-team league to romp back in style.
Saints raced to the title 27 points ahead of second placed Exeter, while putting 60-points-plus on part-time outfits like Sedgley Park, Launceston, Esher and Pertemps Bees.
Myler’s career has come full circle but with the Championship now almost fully professional, he told The Rugby Paper: “You’ve got some very competitive teams in the Championship now and it’s way different to what I found during my first full season at Saints.
“That season helped me a lot in terms of getting to learn the game properly, but the league’s a lot more professional now and teams are improving all the time.
“I’ve spoken to Lee Dickson, who’s now at Bedford, and they’ll be a threat this season, while Ealing have lots of ex-Saints players as well, so it’s not going to be easy.
“Our aim is to go up but it’ll take lots of effort because the Championship has different challenges and we’ll need to cope with what’s thrown at us. But if we focus on that and be flexible in how we respond, I’ve got full confidence we have the squad to do it.”
Other round one highlights see revitalised Coventry taking on Jersey on their return to the second tier after an eight-year absence, while battlers Richmond entertain a new-look London Scottish outfit who will be keen on making an early statement.
However, Irish and Ealing are expected to set the pace and, as the Premiership’s third highest points scorer ever behind Charlie Hodgson (2623) and Andy Goode (2285), former Northampton star Myler (1704) has chosen to help kick-start an Exiles revival.
“I actually read that I’d signed for eight different clubs!” Myler laughed. “It was the right time to move, though, and having considered all the options, including moving abroad, Irish just seemed like the right place for me at this stage of my career.
“When I met Declan Kidney and Les Kiss I saw that there was work to do but it felt like I could play a part in what they were trying to achieve. I was impressed and although it’s different to what I’ve been used to, I’m excited about this new challenge.”
While Myler remains synonymous with North-ampton, having won a Premiership, two European Challenge Cups and the Anglo-Welsh Cup there, he remains hungry for more.
The 33-year-old added: “I’ll always think fondly of my time at Saints. Coming from League a bit disillusioned and at a crossroads in my career, I took the challenge on and was proud to have been involved in arguably the most successful period in the club’s history.
“That part of my career is over now, though, and I’m still hungry and feel I’ve got something to give. If I didn’t feel that I’d call it a day, but I’m still intent on playing for at least a couple more seasons and I will give everything I can now to help London Irish.”
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