ROTHERHAM TITANS’ head coach Mark Jones may be new to the club’s intense rivalry with Yorkshire Carnegie, but he certainly is not in the dark about what a derby means.
The 35-year-old, who leads his side against their Broad Acres foes tomorrow in only his second Championship game since succeeding Lee Blackett, is a veteran of countless such battles in Wales.
Jones, of course, is a legend at Llanelli, the former Wales winger having starred with them for years before injury brought his career to an early halt in 2010.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post last night, he recalled: “Every game against the regions was a derby for us so I know all about that.
“The intensity and the rivalry was there against the Dragons, the Blues and – our biggest derby – the Ospreys.
“No quarter was asked or given in those games and I expect the same on Sunday – it’s South versus West (Yorkshire) and you have to bring a certain physicality to these matches, like any derby.
“You have to get the tactics right, too, or you can fall foul of them, and maintaining your discipline while making sure you respect the opposition is key.”
Jones, who scored 13 tries in 47 Tests for his country, savoured a win in his opening game as Rotherham chief although he admits there was plenty to work on in terms of performance as they edged past Ealing Trailfinders 24-23 with the final kick of the match from Tom Barrett.
“I was very pleased with the victory and to win when you’re not at your best is probably preferable to playing to your optimum and not getting the points as that means there’s no scope for improvement,” he said.
“It was a typical first game of the season; there was a bit of rustiness there from us and we had a couple of chances there to make the score more flattering.
“We have to improve on our skills and we know we’ll have to do so against a Carnegie side who were very dominant versus Jersey.”
Jones has made just two changes to his starting line-up with Lloyd Hayes returning in the centre for Will Owen and Jack Preece starting at hooker in place of Charlie Maddison.
He added: “We need to improve and improve quickly if we are going to keep winning games in this league, particularly as we’ll face a massive challenge from Carnegie.
“They’re obvious favourites coming into the game. You only have to look at their squad and its calibre and experience.
“They’ve a massive squad, great resources, have recruited very well and have an excellent coach in Bryan Redpath.
“We’ll have to execute our game at a high level and then we need to give ourselves an opportunity going into the last 20 minutes to be in with a chance of winning.
“That’s the key really; we’ll worry about ourselves rather than the opposition.”
Blackett, new to head coaching like Jones is now, stunned rivals by leading unfancied Rotherham to top-four finishes in both his campaigns before switching to Wasps in the summer.
Is it naive to think Jones – who worked under former Leeds Tykes and British Lions star Simon Easterby on the Llanelli coaching staff – could replicate that this term?
“To be honest, we’ve not actually spoken about where we want to end up,” he insisted.
“It’s a new playing group for me, a new coaching set-up and we are just taking it day-to-day.
“I’m still getting to know the club and the players – I’ve still got to find out what my strongest team is – but I’m enjoying the experience of more responsibility.
“We might be able to make a better assessment of where we can get to once we get to Christmas.
“But, if then we’re in a place where a string of results could get us in the play-off positions, I’d be over the moon.”
Redpath has made six changes to the side that defeated Jersey 39-22 but trailed at half-time last Sunday.
Wingers Andy Forsyth and David Doherty come in with Seb Stegmann and James Fitzpatrick reverting to the bench while Jack Walker starts at hooker, loosehead Lee Imiolek replaces Charlie Beech, Chris Walker swaps places with Andy Saull in the back-row and Tom Ryder earns a starting place ahead of Dean Schofield.
Furthermore, in a positional switch, captain Chris Jones starts at blindside flanker, Mike Myerscough moving into the second-row.
Carnegie No 8 Ryan Burrows, who signed from Titans in 2012, said: “We know what to expect from Rotherham and just how tough a place Clifton Lane is to go to.
“We both had a win last week but I’m sure, like us, they’ll want to improve on their performance.
“There are quite a few new faces in both teams and it does take time for new squads to settle in.
“However, I think everyone knows what to expect in a passionate derby on Sunday.”
Redpath added: “Our scrum and line-out play went very well last Sunday, but we let ourselves down in too many areas.
“We have a very honest group of players and coaches and we’ve discussed that frankly this week.”
Meanwhile, Carnegie flanker Richard Beck, who has not played since February due to a shoulder injury, has joined National One side Wharfedale on loan.
The 26-year-old is looking to regain some match fitness while fellow back-row Jack Barnard is currently training with their Championship rivals Doncaster Knights.