Yorkshire Carnegie forward Ollie Stedman has warned his team-mates that they can no longer take second place for granted after a drastic downturn in fortunes.
For the better part of six months, Carnegie’s position as the second-best team in the Championship never looked in doubt, as they matched leaders London Irish win for win.
Indeed, their only blemish by the start of February was a defeat to the promotion favourites before Christmas.
But since the middle of last month their momentum has shuddered to a halt with four defeats in the league and five losses in a row in all competitions.
They lost to Cornish Pirates –the only game head coach Bryan Redpath feels they put a poor performance in – Irish in league and cup competition, improving Jersey and then local rivals Doncaster Knights last Sunday.
With a 12-point cushion on fifth-placed Jersey it is highly unlikely they will fall out of the top four with just three games and 15 points left to play for.
However, with Doncaster six points behind, and Ealing five, their grip on second place is as loose at is has been in a long time.
“We need to start winning some games otherwise second could slip away,” said Stedman, ahead of tomorrow’s visit of bottom-placed Richmond. “We should still seal a place in the play-offs but losing is never good, no-one likes losing no matter who it’s against.
“We need to start proving a few points, because four losses in a row – five if you include the B&I Cup – is not good enough.
“We’re a pretty honest bunch, there have been questions asked – even if we win we want to improve our performance.
“But we need answers to some pretty tough questions right now because we need to get back on track.
“Richmond have got nothing to lose and they can be quite dangerous. The last time we played them they played really well, so we can’t afford to slacken off, we’ve got to be on our mettle.”
Redpath said of the recent form: “The effort is there, the mood in the camp is good, we’re just not finishing off the parts that will help us finish the season strongly.
“Any criticsm that comes we have to take on the chin because we’re not on a good run.
“We need the urgency and energy levels to be higher because we lacked that, for whatever reason, last weekend.
“We want to hold on to second.”
Redpath has made four changes with Andy Forsyth starts at centre in place of the injured Pete Lucock. Tom Casson has been replaced by England U20 Grand Slam winning centre Max Wright. Warren Seals has been drafted onto the bench. In the forwards, Phil Nilsen starts at hooker in place of Mike Mayhew whilst Sione Faletau comes in for Mike Cusack, Mayhew and Cusack are both amongst the replacements.
Back rower Josh Bainbridge is ruled out through the injury he suffered whilst scoring at Doncaster last week.