Ian Humphreys is confident that London Irish can end the current campaign on a high and bounce back stronger in 2013/14.
The Exiles head into the final weeks of the season disappointed to be languishing at the wrong end of the Aviva Premiership table.
Their fate rests squarely in their own hands, though, with their run-in set to pitch them into direct competition with those in and around them.
Humphreys believes a final flourish could be on the cards, setting the club up nicely to come out firing on all cylinders next term.
The experienced fly-half told Sky Sports: "The results haven't been what we had hoped for and, in hindsight, with all of the changes in the backroom staff and the players, it got a bit tough along the way. Post-Christmas we have made a few changes in a few things and you have seen an improvement in our results and performances. Hopefully we can finish the season strongly and look forward to next year."
On Irish's hopes for the future, he added: "As a player, with so many changes on the playing side, it took a while for things to settle down. But I think the core of the side will be here next year and I think that bodes well for next year, along with the new signings that will be added in. We are all happy with the way Brian Smith wants us to play and even in the games we lost, there have been glimpses of what we can do.
"I think it's just a matter of making sure we keep our discipline and find a way of performing for the full 80 minutes. I think then you will see a different team and we could do something similar to what Wasps have done this year - gone from being towards the bottom to being towards the top. There are only fine lines in the games we have lost and why we have lost, despite the scorelines not being as close as they perhaps should have been.
"I think discipline has been a huge thing for us. Defensively in the past we weren't, perhaps, critical enough of each other and people weren't doing their roles precisely, but now we have cancelled out the mistakes and there has been a huge upturn in our defence and a huge improvement. I think that is key for us going forward."
Irish's next outing promises to be some occasion, with their St Patrick's Day Party set to be staged around a home date with Worcester, and there are further intriguing tussles to come with fellow strugglers Sale Sharks and London Welsh.
Humphreys said: "Even when things weren't going well, there was never any panic or any struggles. We knew that with those three games at home, the results were all in our hands and we weren't relying on anyone else to drop points. We have always been pretty confident that we will be alright and finish the season strongly."
On the Worcester game, he added: "As a player it is one we have been looking forward to for a few weeks. At the turn of the year you have a look at who you have got, and it's going to be such a huge game. It will be close to a sell out and the club will put on a lot of things pre-game for families and supporters. Hopefully it will be a great day and a good, exciting game."
Humphreys is one of those to have seen their season disrupted by injury, with the luck of the Irish having deserted the Exiles on that front at times, but he is confident the club will be a force to be reckoned with when at full strength.
He said: "Tomas (O'Leary) got injured, he went off injured at half-time in the Harlequins game and that coincided with a bit of a dip in form. He's a key player for us and it will be good to have him back. People like Marland (Yarde) have broken through and done very well. We haven't had a chance to see (Setaimata) Sa this year either, Joe Ansbro as well, so we have had a couple of key injuries and it's been a case of trying to prepare for next year and making things a bit better."
On a personal note, he added: "It was a frustrating start, because at the start I was injured and couldn't play for the first few months. Then when I came in, I was happy enough with how I was playing but as a team we dipped pre-Christmas. I think it has been alright again recently and it's just a case of getting used to the players around you.
"With Tomas going off injured there has been chopping and changing again in the nine and it's a bit difficult to get a relationship going there. But I think it's going quite well recently and in the centres Guy (Armitage) has stepped up recently, which has been good. It's getting used to the combinations, in the 12 and 13, with things changing around every week. Hopefully we can get a bit of stability in the team and things will go well from there."
If Irish can get things right on and off the field, Humphreys is confident they will soon be back where they feel they belong - mixing it with the cream of the European crop.
He said: "It's hard to make predictions now. This year we talked about being a top-six side and I don't see next year why we shouldn't have the same ambitions. For us as a club, we have got to be aiming at the Heineken Cup the following year. A club of our size and tradition, that's the least we should expect. It's just a case now of getting to pre-season and re-evaluating it and see what we think we can do."
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