ASK any Doncaster Knights fan who they fear most in Yorkshire Carnegie’s ranks – essentially who is the likeliest to scupper their promotion dream tomorrow – and invariably the answer will come back as Ryan Burrows.
There is good reason why; the hulking No8 remains one of the most dynamic and destructive players in the Championship, someone all clubs would love to have in their arsenal.
Indeed, if Burrows had not been in the Carnegie side last Sunday then tomorrow’s play-off semi-final return leg at Castle Park would probably already be rendered futile.
It was the rampaging 28-year-old who helped drag his side back into the contest, turning an alarming 27-3 scoreline after 65 minutes into a far more agreeable 30-17 eventual result.
The final whistle had barely been blown before Doncaster’s director of rugby Clive Griffiths was telling anyone who would listen that his side simply had to “chop down” the man they call “Buzz” in the second leg or their 13-point advantage would be overhauled.
“Clive told me before the last game I was the man to stop!” Burrows told The Yorkshire Post, clearly accustomed to being a targeted man.
“If that’s what he’s marked up for this week, too, then it’s another challenge for me. It’s something I have to put up with in every game and I enjoy it. It means I have to be on top of my game every week. If they are trying to stop me it puts more pressure on me to be better. That drives me on.”
Carnegie’s whole campaign now boils down to the 80 minutes ahead. Striving to gain the unlikely result that will take them into a play-off final that will – barring a sporting miracle as incredible as Leicester City winning the Premier League – be against Bristol, they realise there are no more second chances.
There was enough in the way they finished at Headingley to suggest they could cause Doncaster some problems and potentially unnerve their hosts who, of course, are experiencing the play-offs for the first time. However, everything would need to be slick, fast and error-free.
Burrows, who hails from Cleckheaton, admits the target is to start with that fluency and rhythm rather than the cumbersome fodder they served up initially in the first leg.
“We will and that’s the style we’ve tried to play all year,” said the forward, who has scored 27 tries in 118 Carnegie games since moving from Rotherham Titans in 2011. Unfortunately at Headingley we probably didn’t have enough ball to do it or were not clinical enough with what we did have or were not disciplined enough.
“It did really click late on, though, and that’s something we will look to carry on. It’s still game on. We spoke about it after the match on Sunday that we’ve got a fighting chance now. At 27-3 it could have finished so much worse and easily 40 or 50 points against us. But 30-17 means we have a shot at it now. We have to get in the right mindset.”
That has been a problem for Carnegie, though, their inconsistencies too often rising to the surface. Despite significant investment, they finished the regular season third behind surprise package Doncaster in second.
On the prospect of failing to reach the play-offs final, Yorkshireman Burrows conceded: “It certainly would be a disappointment but you have got to give credit to Doncaster.
“They have been one of the best teams in the league consistently this season and were very good again last week. We’re frustrated with how we played but it’s probably fair to say we’ve not played to our full potential once this season. That needs to be there on Sunday. We have to do that or otherwise it will be another tough day in the office.”
Furthermore, Doncaster have only lost two games at home all season in the league, both by two points, to London Welsh last September and leaders Bristol in March, while Carnegie have a wretched record at Castle Park.
Burrows, the only Carnegie player named in the Greene King Championship 2015-16 Dream Team selected by opposition coaches, admitted: “It’s always been a tough place to go.
“I think in all the time I’ve been a Carnegie player we’ve only won there once and that was a pre-season friendly.
“It’s tough enough already being 13 points down but we’ve never won there for a long time, too, in a competitive fixture, so it probably looks like everything is against us. But there’d be no better time go get that first win there and get enough points as well to reach this final. That’s the aim.”
Doncaster make no changes to the twenty-two for tomorrow’s return leg while Bryan Redpath has makes four changes to his Carnegie side.
Joel Hodgson returns to the starting line up at full back allowing Jonah Holmes to revert to the wing in place of Oli Goss. Tight head prop James Tideswell starts instead of Rob O’Donnell, Dean Schofield comes in for Mike Myerscough and Chris Walker starts in place of Andy Saull. Tom Ryder and Seb Stegmann are drafted onto the bench.