Carnegie captain Ryan Burrows says his team will play with a renewed attacking vigour tonight after a potentially season-defining heart-to-heart with the coaching staff.
Perennial promotion challengers Yorkshire began the Championship campaign with only two wins from their opening five games after new head coach Gary Mercer came in just days before the start of the season.
The 48-year-old former New Zealand rugby league international arrived with a remit to tighten up Carnegie’s pourous defence.
While not telling them to entirely curb their attacking enthusiasm, the Kiwi did challenge his players to prioritise preventing tries over scoring them.
Yorkshire scored 13 tries and conceded 13 in the opening five games, after the last of which – a demoralising defeat to Nottingham – the players sat down with the coaching staff to evaluate what had gone wrong.
“The players sat down as a team with the coaches and came up with how we want to play going forward,” said Cleckheaton-born Burrows, who took over the armband this season.
“As Gary says, it’s the players on the pitch who have to take responsibility and we are happy to do so.
“The discussions were very much player-led. We wanted to go back to how we were last year. We played a lot more expansively last year; we could score tries from 100 metres out. The players we have brought in were recruited to play that way.”
He added: “It’s easy to say we didn’t have X, Y and Z because of injuries and we had a new coach coming in, but the bottom line is we haven’t played to our abilities or our strengths and that’s something we have been working on.
“We have got to go back to what we are good at and not let opponents dictate to us. As a playing group we feel as though we have taken that message on.”
Yorkshire welcome Burrows’ old club Rotherham tonight, with the captain confident that they have improved on their last meeting four weeks ago, when a young Carnegie team lost 20-3 to Rotherham in the opening round of B&I matches.
They finished the first tranche of B&I fixtures with a narrow win over Ulster Ravens followed by an emphatic 85-0 victory over Aberavon on Saturday, when Mercer named a stronger team.
“The biggest sign of our development for me was not necessarily the 85 points we put on Aberavon last week but the fact that we kept them to zero,” said Burrows.
“Last season we would have conceded a few points. That shows how much we have come on defensively under Gary.
“The defensive system Gary has brought in is different to what we had before. It is a good system, it just takes a bit of time to bed in.
“We were still learning it going into the season. We could have done with starting pre-season with that system but it’s now up to the players to produce.
“We know we have to find the balance between attack and defence and the last three weeks in the B&I Cup has been like an extended pre-season for us.”
Burrows says he is developing as a captain because of the strength of the leadership group around him.
Players like Rob Vickerman, Jon Clarke and Chris Pilgrim are good sounding boards for the 26-year-old to call upon.
“I’m enjoying being captain,” he said. “The first five games were difficult, but generally it’s an easy job because of the players I’ve got around me who have a lot of experience that I can lean on as and when I need it.”
On his time at Rotherham, Burrows added: “It’s a club that’s close to my heart and hopefully I’ll get a warm reception from their fans.