Andy Titterrell says Leeds Carnegie must treat tomorrow’s final regular Championship clash at London Welsh as a dummy run for the serious business of the play-offs.
Carnegie head into the lunch-time clash at Old Deer Park (kick-off 12.30pm) on the back of two successive losses and while they would be forgiven for keeping their powder dry for the play-offs with qualification already achieved, skipper Titterrell is having none of it.
Seventh-placed Carnegie could still finish sixth if Rotherham Titans fail to pick up anything from their home clash with London Scottish and they pocket two points against Welsh.
But Lyn Jones’ Exiles also have incentive aplenty and can still finish in the top three if they beat Carnegie and other results go their way.
And for Carnegie, there’s also the small matter of avenging their defeat to Welsh on the opening day of the season and ensuring no side does the ‘double’ over them in the regular season.
Titterrell, who was scathing of his side’s late decision-making in Sunday’s hugely-disappointing home loss to Esher said: “We’ve got a lot of things to put right from the first game of the season. But Welsh are going well at the moment and building some momentum going into the play-offs.
“But for me, it’s a fantastic opportunity for us to go away from home as we will in the play-offs and perform against a top three/top four side. We’ll have to go really hard down there, not be frightened and be mentally strong.
“You can’t just turn up for the big games, like Bedford, Cornish and Rotherham at home. Yes, that’s great, but you need those performances week-in, week-out.
“But the likes of Esher deserve the same amount of respect and that comes down to individuals. Everyone gets motivated differently.
“I don’t know whether I’m ‘old school’ in this, but I believe you have got to play your next game as if it’s your last. While it’s also a great opportunity for some players to put their hand up on Saturday and if they do well, it will put pressure on Diccon (Edwards) to pick the right squad and combinations.”
On a gruelling third game within a six-day period for Carnegie, the former England and British and Irish Lions hooker added: “Mentally and physically, it’s challenging.
“But other teams have the same problems and having said all that, we’re professional athletes and if we can’t look after ourselves away from the training ground in terms of what conditioners have given us to do, we shouldn’t be involved with Leeds Carnegie.
“We’d be letting ourselves and team down if we can’t get our recovery strategies right.”
While Titterrell has promised that tomorrow’s game won’t lack in intensity for Carnegie, he and the senior players and coaching team have been reinforcing the message about game management and decision-making after a catastrophic late error cost them badly in Sunday’s 24-22 shock defeat to Esher.
Rather than opt to kick a late penalty to confirm victory, Carnegie opted for a quick tap, with Esher punishing them by going up the other end to grab an equalising score with the conversion sealing a stunning victory.
Insisting it’s a lesson they dare not repeat in the play-offs, he said: “We were hugely disappointed on Sunday, moreso in the last 15 minutes where we lost shape and total control of the game.
“As captain, I sent out a strong message to the players about being able to take points when they are on offer and not be stupid.
“You’d like to think getting into those games with a few minutes to go, we wouldn’t be stupid and you shouldn’t have to learn from the mistakes as they shouldn’t be there in the first place.
“But it’s happened and it’s made Diccon, myself and a few other players reinforce issues. I want to get out of the field and be proud of my lads and have said: ‘If I make a wrong decision as captain out on the field, or Jake (Rowan) as vice-captain, we’ve said the decision lies with us and we take the rap for it.’
“That’s why you have leaders and senior players to make those decisions, so as not to be so hasty. We’ve got that message across and I’m sure that will stick with them now.”