LONDON Irish flanker Conor Gilsenan believes the club's new signings will have a major part to play as they return to the Gallagher Premiership.

Exiles have flashed the cash to bring a wealth of international stars to Madejski Stadium, with British & Irish Lion Sean O'Brien, Australian quartet Adam Coleman, Sekope Kepu, Nick Phipps and Curtis Rona, and New Zealand World Cup-winner Waisake Naholo all bolstering Declan Kidney's option.

Scottish prop Alan Dell, Irish fly-half Paddy Jackson, young prop Will Goodrick-Clarke and South African second row Ruan Botha have also joined the ranks.

And Gilsenan, fresh from signing a contract extension of his own, commented: “The fresh faces coming in are always good for the club. They bring new energy and it’s nice to get to know them all.

“There is a massive challenge coming up this season, but you must be positive and optimistic. You have to be at this time of the year, or you have no hope."

With the Irish players now back in pre-season, Gilsenan added: "“The coaches have eased us into it which has been nice. They haven’t been beating us with a whip from day one with fitness tests, so it’s been good.

“It’s a well-thought-out programme from the strength and conditioning guys and the management team. They’ve split us into three groups to tailor the sessions to our individual needs.

“I’m getting a lot from each session and I know that the rest of the boys are enjoying it.”

Speaking about staying at the club, he added: “I’m delighted. Absolutely delighted. This is my sixth season and the time has just flown by since I arrived.

“Even though there have been some tough times, I have enjoyed every second of it. I’m buzzing to get back into the Premiership and get going again.”

Meanwhile, forwards coach George Skivington is looking forward to some tough tests in the European Challenge Cup.

Irish have been drawn in a tough Pool Two featuring three-time European Cup winners Toulon, fellow French outfit Bayonne, and Welsh team Scarlets.

He said: “It’s a tough draw, it would be a tough draw if it was a Champions Cup pool. It shows the quality of our group.

“There are some good places to go and some great stadiums to play at, but ultimately they are very tough teams to take on and we will have to be on our mettle for those games.

“The atmosphere whenever you head to France or across to Wales is always very good but that does make them very difficult grounds to visit.

“The loud crowds are there to intimidate you, but they are great experiences. You have to thrive on that and enjoy it. Hopefully we will be able to pull our experience together and put a plan in place for how we take that on.”

The games with Scarlets will also provide a reunion with two of Exiles' former coaching staff, Glenn Delaney and Richard Whiffin, and Skivington is looking forward to locking horns with the duo.

He concluded: "It will add a bit of spice and a bit of fun to it. Obviously, Glenn and Whiff are just moving to Scarlets now so I think they will be quite excited by drawing London Irish and I’m sure we will have a bit of banter after the game.”