Title hunt is not just two-horse race, says Jones

Yorkshire Carnegie head coach Gary Mercer.
Yorkshire Carnegie head coach Gary Mercer.
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The new dawn at Carnegie gets its first serious test tomorrow when the team sporting the moniker Yorkshire host one of the more revered names in English rugby union.

Bristol may have fallen on hard times in recent years but remain one of the great pillars of the sport in this country.

Their own propensity to wilt under the enormous expectation placed on them both internally and externally has meant their exile from the top division is now in its seventh year.

Last season, after overcoming a tenacious Rotherham Titans in the play-off semi-final, they proved no match for London Welsh in the final, despite having the better of the team that would eventually pip them to promotion in the regular season.

The 2014-15 season began with Bristol sharing equal billing with relegated Worcester Warriors, and the encounter the two played out last week at Bristol’s new home at Ashton Gate, was a ferocious indicator of the season-long battle that lies ahead.

That Bristol won narrowly, in dramatic come-from-behind fashion, will fill Andy Robinson’s expensively-assembled squad with great heart as they head north to face the new Yorkshire Carnegie at Headingley tomorrow.

If Bristol and Worcester are favourites, Yorkshire arguably are in the level just below the two as a Premiership outfit in all but appearance.

And for Chris Jones, Carnegie’s marquee summer signing of the season given his status as a former top-flight stalwart with Sale and Worcester plus 12 England caps to his name, neither side are unbeatable.

“A lot of the talk is about Worcester and Bristol and that’s understandable because they’ve got the budgets,” said the 34-year-old lock.

“So let them take the limelight, that’s fine by us.

“We’ll concentrate purely on getting into the top four. I was in that Worcester camp last year so know all there is to know about them after what was a difficult season, and Bristol have got their own demons.

“Worcester are beatable, as Bristol proved last week, so it’s not a two-horse race.

“Bristol have made a lot of big signings, they beat Worcester but it wasn’t a dominant win.

“They are beatable. Leeds have always been a thorn in Bristol’s side, and hopefully that will continue this week and this season.”

Jones scored a try on his debut last Sunday as Carnegie began life as Yorkshire with a victory over Cornish Pirates.

That sets them up handsomely for tomorrow’s Bristol test with Jones confident the best is a long way off as life under new head coach Gary Mercer begins to take shape.

“There’s been an adjustment, but it’s a great set of lads, a great work ethic and there’s a real enjoyment about it,” said Jones, a Sheffield Hallam University graduate, who returns north after three seasons with Worcester.

“I wanted to come here and enjoy my rugby and they’ve really encompassed that.

“It’s a really nice balance between work and enjoyment, and that balance also translates onto the pitch.

“I’m here for a couple of reasons. I’d like to think I’m here because I’m a good player, first and foremost.

“I don’t think I got the chance to express that at Worcester, but I’ve got plenty left in the tank and I’ve come here to prove that.

“Leeds have learnt in the last few seasons that you’ve got to make the most of your opportunities.

“They were a man up and 15 or so points to the good against Welsh in the semi-final and couldn’t get it done.

“It was a little bit of inexperience on the field that tripped them up, and possibly the other reason I’m here is to make sure if we’re in that situation we don’t trip up.”

Cleckheaton-born flanker Ryan Burrows has been confirmed as the first full-time captain of Yorkshire Carnegie, after wearing the armband at Mennaye Field last week.

Mercer said of the appointment: “It has been pleasing to see within our group that we have a number of leaders and that will be important going forward.

“However, I have been impressed by Ryan since my arrival and everyone at the club has nothing but good things to say about him both as a player and a person.

“I am looking forward to working with him throughout this season and I am sure he will do an outstanding job.”