YORKSHIRE Carnegie head coach Bryan Redpath knows there can be no excuses for lethargy as the club get their latest bid for promotion back to the Premiership underway.
They host Jersey tomorrow when Rotherham Titans also entertain Ealing Trailfinders, with Doncaster Knights starting their Championship season at home to newly-relegated London Welsh later this afternoon.
Carnegie, having twice featured in the Heineken Cup and won the Powergen Cup at Twickenham, are desperate to finally return to the top flight after four years playing in the second tier.
The last campaign never truly got going for a number of reasons.
Carnegie did not employ a replacement for head coach Jimmy Lowes until a fortnight before it got underway.
Even then, the appointed Gary Mercer barely lasted three months before departing in November after a poor run of results and with morale at a worrying low.
Forwards coach Tommy McGee took over but he, too, elicited indifferent results and was released in early March, former Sale Sharks and Gloucester chief Redpath eventually restoring some order while being unable to prevent the club finishing any better than sixth, seven points adrift of the top four.
The ex-Scotland scrum-half has had plenty of time since then, however, to cement his plans for 2015-16 and create calm ahead of the forthcoming campaign.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Redpath admitted the unrest amid the coaching uncertainty “manifested” itself in the players last term.
“They didn’t start as well as they’d like and they got a little bit lost with that focus, looking at the changes in backroom staff as a reason for it,” he said.
“But there’s none of that this time around. We’ve actually added to the group and there’s no reason why we can’t get off to a good start.
“In fact, it is really important we do as nine of the first 10 matches – it’s normally six – are in the Championship, which is rare, so we have to focus on getting a good start against Jersey on Sunday.”
There is no prospect of easing their way in given there are no British & Irish Cup fixtures to break up the opening as normal; if Carnegie are to challenge for the semi-finals once more they have to get up and running quickly.
Redpath believes the appointment as captain of former England second-row Chris Jones, who won the Premiership while at Sale Sharks in 2006 where he was a former team-mate of his current coach, is critical in achieving that aim.
He replaces Ryan Burrows in the role and Redpath said: “Chris Jones joined last year and he runs our line-out and our defensive line-out so he’s a huge part of how we start and stop the opposition.
“He can have a massive direct influence on what we do or don’t do in defence and attack and has a lot of knowledge in that area.
“Around him we have Ryan Burrows and Chris Pilgrim, boys who are leaders, too, and named as vice-captains.”
Jersey finished just below Carnegie last season and Redpath knows where their most potent weapon lies.
“They have a very good line-out drive and we know they’ll come hard at us there,” he said.
“They scored three tries from line-out drives against Scarlets last week and last year in the Championship Jersey were up there near the top when it came to that department so we can’t disrespect field position.
“We have to make sure our actions are very clear, too, and not grey as the man in the middle will have a say, too, and we have to show we are all as one.”
Carnegie include four new signings tomorrow but, of course, their biggest recruit is former England rugby league captain Kevin Sinfield who will join once his Leeds Rhinos commitments finish in the coming weeks.
Most people are expecting the club’s legendary stand-off to bow out with another Grand Final winner’s medal at Old Trafford on October 10.
The 34-year-old, who has led them to six Super League titles already and played for Rhinos all his professional career, hoisted the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup a week ago following a 50- annihilation of Hull KR.
“I was there at Wembley last weekend to see Kev achieve that and the Rhinos get their rewards again after so many heartaches over the years,” said Redpath.
“I felt for Hull KR in front of such a dominant force like Leeds.
“It will be great to see Kev change over, but we know he’s got a big couple of months ahead of him first.
“I know he’s itching at the bit to get some more information, but he can come when he’s ready.”
Carnegie’s four starting debutants tomorrow are former London Welsh winger Seb Stegmann, the 36-year-old ex-Wakefield and England lock Dean Schofield plus prop Rob O’Donnell from Worcester Warriors and Newcastle Falcons back-row Andy Saull.
Tom Ryder and Andy Forsyth could also make their debuts from the bench.
Rotherham, meanwhile, begin life after Lee Blackett tomorrow.
He led the South Yorkshire club to top-four finishes in both his campaigns as head coach so it was perhaps no surprise when Premiership Wasps came calling to take him onto their staff.
Former Wales winger Mark Jones is the new head coach as Titans take on Ealing and he gives debuts to centres Joe Barker and Will Owen plus fellow new recruits hooker Charlie Maddison, flanker Tom Calladine and No 8 Tim Cree.
Jones said: “I’ve seen Ealing a couple of times in pre-season and know a couple of the Welsh lads in their second-row from my time with the Scarlets and a back-three player in Will Harries who was at the Dragons.
“They’ve got quality right across the pitch, they’ve had a good pre-season and look to play a high tempo brand of rugby. We know we’ll face a difficult challenge.”
Doncaster give competitive debuts to new half-back signings Declan Cusack and Michael Heaney against the might of London Welsh this afternoon, with another recruit – winger Will Hurrell – seeing crowd-pleaser Tyson Gay restricted to a place on the bench for their opener.
Former Headingley captain Gerry Wood has died aged 84 following a brief illness.
Born in Leeds, Wood – a passionate supporter of Pocklington RUFC – also captained Harrogate, and represented Yorkshire and North of England, playing against the All Blacks in 1954.