MATT CHALLINOR says there is a new-found respect for the British & Irish Cup and not just from his inspired Doncaster Knights side.
They have a 100 per cent record this season in the oft-maligned competition and, thus, will secure a home quarter-final tie if they can win their penultimate Pool 4 game at Cornish Pirates today.
Doncaster’s captain admits a tournament that used to be an after-thought is now something that has become central to their thinking.
Furthermore, he feels the rich vein of form they have encountered in it – four wins from four – can only aid their recovery in the Championship where, conversely, they have lost their last four.
Cornish, like Bedford Blues, whom they defeated last weekend, are Championship rivals and the veteran second-row said: “If you look at the sides we’ve put out for the B&I previously they’ve been made up of trialists and reserve team players.
“But this year a few teams, not just us, have changed their stance and taken it more seriously.
“When we played at Bedford last Friday, for example, that was the best team they could field.
“By effectively beating Championship sides home and away it can only be a positive when we are back to the league.”
Doncaster have only qualified for the quarter-finals once before, but Challinor added: “At the beginning of the season, we set out with the ambition of really going forward in the B&I Cup.
“In previous years, we’ve not taken it as seriously as maybe we should have done, to be honest.
“But we’ve performed really well and if we get the ‘W’ on Saturday we get that home draw in the quarters which not only brings revenue for the club but a big occasion and a chance to go further still.
“Realistically, are we going to be in the (Championship) top four challenging to go up when we’ve only just been promoted? Probably not.
“But we’ve been playing really well in the B&I and won all our away games so far which is unheard of for us. On our day we’re good enough to beat anyone.”
Doncaster have faced Cornish twice before at Castle Park in recent weeks, losing 24-22 in the Championship but then prospering 29-25 in the B&I Cup.
Pool Two leaders Rotherham have already qualified for the last eight and will secure top spot if they maintain their 100 per cent record at Aberavon in Wales this afternoon.
Lee Blackett has made plenty of changes; James Mitchell returns at scrum-half given Alex Davies has returned to Newcastle Falcons for a fortnight with Chris Davies, Ben Morris and Sean Robinson for their European Challenge Cup matches.
Centre Jordan Davies comes in for Harris, winger Craig Dowsett is recalled for the ill James Broadley while, up front, flanker Max Argyle takes over from Ali Birch. Perry Parker replaces Robinson and props Marshall Gadd and Adam Macklin are selected instead of Robin Hislop and Lewis Thiede.
All of the region’s sides can advance given second-placed Yorkshire Carnegie know victory over Ulster Ravens at Huddersfield YMCA tomorrow will put them through, too.
Ulster have lost all four games so far but Carnegie flanker Richard Beck insisted: “They’ll be strong. It’s always difficult to work out what sort of team they will field.
“They have such a massive squad and it all depends on what their first team are doing but we won’t under-estimate them.
“They gave us a tough game over there earlier in the season (Carnegie won 22-17) and I watched them play Rotherham last week and the scoreline (Titans won 52-17) flattered Rotherham slightly.
“They’ll be pretty big up front, but we’re more focusing on ourselves.”