Jon Clarke has described the much-maligned British and Irish Cup as an opportunity for struggling Yorkshire Carnegie to kick-start their season.
Carnegie head across the North Sea to tackle Ulster Ravens tomorrow having lost their opening game of the competition to Rotherham Titans last week.
That defeat came on the back of two successive losses in the Greene King IPA Championship, which after the first five games of the season, has left Gary Mercer’s rebranded club languishing in the bottom four of the second tier.
Clarke left Premiership side Worcester last Christmas to join Carnegie – initially on loan – because he felt the Headingley club matched his aspirations.
And while he remains confident that his faith will be justified, he knows the next two weeks in the British and Irish Cup will be pivotal to the team’s development.
“The B&I Cup is a fantastic opportunity to get it right,” said Sheffield-born Clarke, 29, who is one of only a handful of senior players expected to pad out a youthful looking team tomorrow in Northern Ireland.
“We’ve got a fantastic game against Ulster. What happened in the past has to be lessons learned. We’ve got to keep moving forward.
“Losing to Nottingham in our last game was tough to take because we expect more from ourselves.
“We’re disappointed, but it’s a long season. I’ve been in situations before where a team has lost a lot of games before Christmas and then after that we’ve been ridiculously good.
“It’s not a done deal, we’ve just got to make sure we keep learning and moving in the right direction.”
A lot of Carnegie’s senior players are not expected back until their final B&I game in this block against Aberavon at Brantingham Park next Saturday.
But the experienced Clarke, who started the first four games of the season before sitting out the defeats to Nottingham and Rotherham, is eager to be involved.
“The B&I is a massive opportunity for the younger lads particularly, but a chance for everyone to put their hand up for selection,” said the former Northampton Saints back.
“If you don’t play well you’re not going to play against Rotherham first game back in the league. The B&I Cup might not be as big as the Championship but it’s just as important because it’s about selection.
“I didn’t want to go too many weeks without playing. If I can play well I can play next week and hopefully I’ll get a run into the Rotherham game.
“I’ll play every week if I can. In these situations, all you can do is keep fronting up.”
This is Carnegie’s first trip back to Ireland after their heavy defeat to Leinster A in the B&I Cup final in May.
Clarke played in that game and knows a thing or two from his time at Northampton about playing Irish teams.
“They’ll be tough. Any Irish team is big, tall, strong and they’ll hold the ball up,” he said. “We know what’s coming but we need a result.”
Chief executive Gary Hetherington reports that Yorkshire are on course to make an announcement on the progress made in their search for investment.
Carnegie want between £2m and £4m to make their integrated, county-wide system a reality.
Hetherington said: “There will be an announcement in line with the original timescale at the end of October. We are optimistic it is going to be a positive statement.”