DEPARTING fly-half Joe Ford says Yorkshire Carnegie will attack from the off tonight in a bold attempt to rescue their promotion bid and create the biggest upset in Championship final history.
They face London Irish at the Madejski Stadium trailing the favourites by 11 points after last Wednesday’s 29-18 defeat at Headingley. No side has ever recovered from a first-leg deficit to win the Championship showpiece in its eight-year history.
Emerging victorious, then, from the competition’s last final before reverting to automatic promotion would represent a remarkable feat especially against a side of the Exiles’ pedigree. Of course, Irish remain huge favourites to progress but Ford – who is expected to confirm a move to Leicester Tigers after tonight’s contest – maintains his side have not written off their own chances.
“Obviously it’s a good lead for them but it’s not game over by any means,” he said.
“We still feel we’ve got a good shot. It will be tough, we’re under no illusions, but if we can stay within a score or two going into the last 20 minutes that would put pressure on.
“If we start well, though, and score an early try then that would really let us see what they are like under pressure. That’s the aim. We have to play against this team and, because of the way they set up, we want to fire some shots early doors.
“We can’t be doing it with every play and we will still have to play pragmatically at some time but we have to challenge them and I do think there’ll be some opportunities for us.
“When it’s on, we need to go but we need to execute as well. We are good players. We’re capable of it.”
Ford was encouraged by finding some chinks in Irish’s armour during the first leg which Carnegie led 15-13 at half-time after scoring two tries against opponents seeking an immediate return to the top flight.
“We missed a few chances,” he recalled. Jimmy (Lowes) and Brush (Redpath) showed us some footage a few days ago and there were a number of opportunities like the forward pass to Jonah (Holmes) and a few others from inside our own half we could have done better with.
“We had to take them as as the game went on Irish were going to get stronger with the internationals they could bring on. We needed to take a few more points but, hopefully, we will do that on Wednesday.”
Carnegie have recalled Scotland prop Michael Cusack in place of Sione Faletau, who is named on the bench after a head injury that saw him leave in the first leg after just 19 minutes. Mike Myerscough also comes into the starting line-up, with Ben West among the replacements.
Irish eventually took a grip in the scrum and former Northampton player Ford recalled: “I thought Rob O’Donnell did really well when he came on in the first half. But it was always going to be tough to try and keep that level up for over an hour.
“It was a tough ask especially given the Premiership and international quality Irish had. Hopefully, Michael Cusack can strengthen us up there and we can take it to them.”
Irish are without Aseli Tikoirotuma, who was banned for four weeks on Monday night after being cited after the first leg. The Fijian centre was deemed lucky to still be on the field after felling Holmes with a swinging arm in the 42nd minute when Carnegie were still 15-13 ahead.
“When it’s a massive game like that and the cameras are there I just can’t understand why the referee didn’t go and get it checked,” added Ford, after only a penalty was awarded.
“If he had, surely it would have been a different decision?
“With the laws as they are now you’d have thought it would be a red card and it made no sense not to get it looked at. But it’s gone now and we have to move on.”
Ford, in his third spell at Headingley after rejoining from Sale last summer, insisted he is not contemplating this will be his last match for the club. “I won’t think about it until after the game. I just want to try and finish strongly, get us the win and if it’s good enough to get us in the Premiership then great.”