London Irish Determined to Hold Onto Stars Following Takeover

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By Sophie Russell | December 14, 2013 2:21 AM EST

London Irish director of rugby Brian Smith is hopeful that the arrival of new investors will allow the club to keep hold of star pair Marland Yarde and James O'Connor.

Smith told BBC Sport that the Exiles would be putting their best foot forward following Thursday's announcement that the club would be taken over by an Irish Consortium.

Winger Yarde (21) and 23-year-old Australian utility back O'Connor are due to leave the club at the end of the season when their contracts will expire.  

London Irish have lost key players in the past such as the likes of Delon Armitage, Jonathan Joseph and Alex Corbisiero, igniting determination from Smith to not let this duo go in similar fashion.

 "We've stepped up to the plate with Marland and his management - we've put on the table exactly what he has asked for. We are hopeful," Smith said of Yarde, who has this season broken into the England squad.

He added, "We are very keen to keep our home-grown players and he is one of them. In saying that, every individual has got to make a decision. We feel we are a club going places and hopefully the significance of that helps kick several people over the line."

O'Connor meanwhile arrived in London in October from Australia in a bid to rescue his playing career following the termination of is international contract after a string of off-the-field incidents.

In spite of this, Smith is hopeful that O'Connor will continue to play his club rugby at the Madejski Stadium where he received a warm welcome.

The back who has played in 44 tests for his country appears to be enjoying his time in London and will liaise with Smith and Australian head coach Ewen McKenzie with regards to his international selection prospects.

"He fits in," said Smith, "I have not had any trouble from him in terms of a management point of view.

"He has been outstanding and takes time after training to coach the academy and other young aspiring internationals."

Looking ahead to the future of London Irish, Mick Crossan will lead the new consortium as executive chairman of the club's primary sponsor Powerday and is soon to be the club's new president.

Crossan's has made clear that the mission to see the Exiles compete in the top four of the Aviva Premiership once again has been spearheaded by the arrival of players such as O'Connor and South African forward CJ Van der Linde.

Linked with these goals are rumours that Irish might be looking to leave the Madejski Stadium for Brentford's new ground in Kew.

Although executive chairman David Fitzgerald would prefer to see out their contract at the Reading stadium until 2025-26, he has revealed that there is get-out-clause which the club could utilise if it made business sense.

"We average 9,000 and, quite frankly, there are quite a few clubs in the Premiership who would like to average that," Fitzgerald said. "We need to drive that number up, there is no doubt about it. It's a circular thing.

"If you get the product right and the performances right on the field people will come and watch.

"The model is to drive that number up and once we do that everything can be reinvested back into the playing side.

"We will not rule out other opportunities if they arise that make sense from a business point of view. We do not want to alienate out support base. We've been in Reading for 13 years."

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