THERE is no sense of brashness or embellishment when captain Ryan Burrows expresses his belief Yorkshire Carnegie can go unbeaten this season and even field two sides strong enough to compete in the Championship.
Given their start – the Headingley-based outfit have won all six games so far and sit just a point behind leaders London Irish – the totemic No8 has good reason for such statements.
That is especially so when you dig a little deeper into what is occurring with Bryan Redpath’s side who, though reaching the play-off semi-finals and British & Irish Cup final last term, often looked unconvincing.
What is it this time that has changed to leave them so buoyant and confident?
Burrows, who joined from Rotherham Titans in 2011 with Carnegie just relegated from the Premiership, points to their recruitment on and off the field.
The return of former Bradford Bulls chief Jimmy Lowes, their head coach in 2013-14, as an assistant specifically working on attack has been welcomed. Furthermore, in Burrows’ case, the addition of Steve Boden as forwards coach from rivals Jersey, is instantly paying dividends.
But the calibre of player signings Redpath has made has enriched the squad vastly as well.
“If you look we have 35 (quality) players this year rather than maybe 21 or 22; anyone can come in and make just as good an impact,” Cleckheaton-born Burrows told The Yorkshire Evening Post.
“For me, we could probably put two Championship teams out every week with both able to compete pretty well. The strength in depth’s a lot better and you’ll see that over the next two weeks in the British & Irish Cup.
“It is that depth that will help us win games so it’s important for lads who have not got much game-time to go out and stake a claim for why they should be playing in the next set of league fixtures.”
Carnegie break off for the B&I Cup at Ealing Trailfinders on Saturday with a raft of quality players – Josh Bainbridge, Michael Cusack and Charlie Beech to name three – still yet to play this term, illustrating that strength.
On former Doncaster Knights hooker Boden, who replaced Dave Baldwin as forwards coach, Burrows said: “He’s been great, not changed too much but put his stamp on things especially around the maul and scrum area.
“With Bodes, there’s a bit more detail and, the main one, clarity especially around the maul with the new laws that have come in. He hammers us four or five sessions a week with the little details. The line-out is going well, the scrum’s a work in progress but it’s the maul in particular.
“A lot of teams are struggling with that this season but we’re one of the most consistent teams, scoring tries but not conceding tries in that area as well. Bodes has watched a lot of rugby and picked the fine arts out of the new rules.
“In the backs, Jimmy (Lowes) has brought that attacking flair back and a little more creativity.
“He’s put more core skill into the lads and self-belief. He puts them through hell but we’re reaping the rewards on the pitch.”
Burrows admitted at the end of last season the squad prioritised sorting their defence for 2016-17, something former Scotland assistant Alan Tait is helping with on a part-time basis. But the 28-year-old added: “Our biggest improvement made so far is when we’re under pressure we don’t crack.
“Against Rotherham we went down 7-6 at half-time and had not had the ball. Last year we’d have panicked, tried to do too much and end up losing the game.
“But we didn’t. Then, on Sunday, we went to Cornish Pirates and were 14-13 up at half-time having probably only touched the ball in two attacking positions.
“But we scored two tries. That little bit of composure, game-management from the half-backs and probably a little bit more all-round leadership and Premiership experience with the likes of Dean Schofield – who’s playing exceptionally well – and Richie Mayhew, has helped us.”
Carnegie, meanwhile, have done well to hold on to Burrows, who could easily have switched to a top-flight side, but he added: “My only ambition is to get this club into the Premiership.
“I’m in the last year of my contract so for me I want it to happen now ideally and what happens on the back of that will happen.
“This club deserves to be in the Premiership and that’s our aim – go unbeaten all year, finish first and, if we do, ultimately we will achieve our goal of promotion.”