AS they prepare for Saturday’s visit of unbeaten leaders London Irish, Rotherham Titans captain Will Owen admits he has never witnessed a Championship campaign as closely fought.
That might seem like an oxymoron given their big-spending opponents – relegated from the Premiership – and ambitious Yorkshire Carnegie have already started to pull away from the rest, opening a 12-point gap from third-placed Ealing Trailfinders.
However, below them, the battle for play-off places is as fierce as it is deep.
Owen told The Yorkshire Post: “It’s an odd one; I’ve never experienced a league as tight as this.
“One win can rocket you right up the table as there’s only six points between fourth and 11th, which is second bottom.
“But there’s a lot more pressure in games as, even if you’re sat fifth feeling like you’re sitting pretty, one defeat can see you drop down to 10th and suddenly panicking a little.”
That is why Sunday’s 19-19 draw at Nottingham, when Rotherham squandered a winning position to concede a converted try with the final play deep into stoppage-time, was particularly galling.
“It was really frustrating; we’re our own worst enemy at times,” added the centre, as their hosts edged into fourth spot.
“There were a couple of mistakes and a bit of ill-discipline at crucial times towards the end when we should have choked the game.
“If we’d have done that, we’d have got four points and been up to joint-fifth just a point behind Doncaster in fourth after they lost. But now, we’re actually in eighth, level with the team in ninth. We played really well in patches but lack the consistency we need.”
If ever Justin Burnell’s side require a full 80-minute performance, it is against Irish at Clifton Lane this weekend.
The Exiles have, predictably, won all 10 league games so far but they are certainly not infallible, Jersey – the team who do sit in 11th – having pushed them hard 42-29 at Madejski Stadium last Sunday.
Owen added: “What we’ve noticed is they do concede quite a lot of points.
“We’ll definitely be going into Saturday’s game looking to score some tries and putting points on them.
“If we can keep their score down to as little as possible there’s no reason why we can’t beat them but we have to produce an 80-minute display.
“We’re going out there to win this but they are firm favourites for a reason. It’s a challenge, though, our guys will relish, especially the younger ones.”