Optimism high for Yorkshire trio after encouraging start

Doncaster Knights are put through their paces at Castle Park by head coach Clive Griffiths. Picture: Sarah Washbourn.
Doncaster Knights are put through their paces at Castle Park by head coach Clive Griffiths. Picture: Sarah Washbourn.
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AMID the blanket Rugby World Cup coverage, and despite the Aviva Premiership’s start being delayed until this weekend, it is easily forgotten an intriguing Green King IPA Championship campaign is already up and firing.

It is intriguing especially for those in the Broad Acres given the table after six rounds – always a decent time to start assessing – sees Yorkshire’s clubs occupy three of the top five placings.

Yorkshire Carnegie, of course, have made an excellent fist of it so far and sit astride at the top with five wins.

But Rotherham Titans, under new coach Mark Jones, have begun more than adequately, too, with four victories from their opening six games seeing them well-placed in fourth.

Furthermore, Doncaster Knights, who spent most of the last campaign fighting off the threat of relegation, have won three games already, rising to fifth (joint-fourth), with no team in the division having yet secured more than their five bonus points.

They host Cornish Pirates tomorrow, looking to advance further and bounce back from last Friday’s narrow 27-20 loss at Carnegie, but knowing their opponents are hitting form, too, following a 21-17 victory over third-placed London Scottish.

Right from the opening weekend when Moseley won at Scottish and Bedford did likewise at last season’s table-toppers Bristol, there have been surprise results in the competition.

Nottingham eased past relegated London Welsh 30-10, while newly-promoted Ealing Trailfinders came close to downing big-spending Bristol last weekend, before falling just 26-21.

That makes Carnegie’s game at second-placed Bristol on Sunday all the more appetising and Griffiths admitted: “It is that sort of league – attritional.

“There will be more results like those especially when you get to cold, wet December afternoons, too. We’re very satisfied with how we’ve started, especially considering we’ve lost two fly-halves to injury and saw a third get injured at Carnegie on Friday.

“It took us until the end of December last season to secure the number of points (17) we already have. So, if we can finish the way we did last season and get that consistency going, we’ll be well away from where we don’t want to be (relegation) and closer to where we do (play-offs).”

Rotherham, meanwhile, will seek to get a head start on their rivals given they head to Bedford Blues this evening, opponents who trail them by just a point but were defeated 34-27 at Jersey on Saturday.

Titans won 37-27 against Moseley last time out but Jones admitted: “We didn’t have a terrific performance last week.

“We did, however, show great enterprise in a couple of areas, but then often our attacks broke down with simple errors on our part and that somewhat spoiled the rhythm of the game.

“What did please me was beforehand we’d targeted our driving game for Moseley, because we’d been poor previously against Bristol, and to be fair to the lads they really delivered in that area and that laid a major platform towards us winning the game.

“Moseley are a difficult side to play against and you have to put in a real shift if you want to get anything from the game and it will be exactly the same again when we go to Bedford.

“Mike Rayer has put together a very good outfit, Bedford play a good brand of rugby and if you’re not prepared physically and mentally, they can score two or three tries in the blink of an eye.”

Jones makes seven changes including a new centre pair of Jordan Davies and Joe Barker, Will Owen out due to a knee injury.

Winger Curtis Wilson returns for Michael Keating and Ross Jones starts at full-back while hooker Charlie Maddison comes in for the injured Darren Harris, tighthead Mark Tampin is preferred to Lewis Thiede and lock George Oram starts in place of Barney Maddison.

Carnegie coach Bryan Redpath, meanwhile, will hand centre Tom Casson his full debut on Sunday.

The 25-year-old, who joined from Harlequins during the off-season, has been out injured since the pre-season friendly versus Romania but will bring his experience to the crunch game against Bristol at Ashton Gate.

Redpath said: “It’s great to have him fit.

“He speaks exceptionally well, has been in a good environment at Quins in the Premiership and played some big games there.

“We’ve got four centres at the minute but Tom gets his chance this week and I don’t see it as a gamble; if he says he’s fit and ready then he is.”