BRYAN REDPATH knows his Yorkshire Carnegie side are facing a critical stage of their season starting with today’s trip to London Scottish.
It kicks-off a four-game sequence which is likely to be vital when it comes to jostling for Championship top-four places.
Carnegie are currently third, only eight points behind leaders Bristol and just one adrift of second-placed Doncaster Knights.
They host Cornish Pirates next Sunday before visiting Doncaster in a huge derby and then rounding off February by welcoming Bristol to Headingley.
“They are four massive games for us,” admitted head coach Redpath, whose side are certainly in good fettle, entering on the back of a six-match winning run.
“We are playing two teams above us in the league and so it’s extremely important; we know we have to win virtually all four to go above them.
“It’s not going to be easy as Pirates never are, then we’ve Doncaster away and Bristol at home while London Scottish are under new ownership with the Scottish RU helping them out, too, with players on loan.
“We beat them in the B&I Cup a few weeks ago but they will be a different animal now.”
Carnegie defeated Scottish 56-7 in that competition at Scarborough but found it much tougher in the away fixture before Christmas only succeeding 29-24.
Furthermore, they lost their home league encounter against Scottish 30-27 in September so are aware of how competitive they generally are.
Redpath has made 10 changes to the side that defeated the Ospreys Premiership Select in last week’s B&I Cup contest.
Only winger Seb Stegmann, centre Tom Casson, scrum-half Chris Pilgrim, prop Charlie Beech and back-row Richard Beck are retained with England Under 20s players Taylor Prell, Jack Walker – the hooker fit again after knee surgery – Max Green and Josh Bainbridge all returning.
Carnegie are without prop Rob O’Donnell, who is ruled out after suffering a head injury against the Ospreys, so Ben Hooper makes his first Championship start of the campaign. On the bench, prop James Tideswell makes his first appearance since that league loss to Scottish after overcoming injury and spending time on loan recently at Huddersfield RUFC.
On that SRU link, former Scotland captain Redpath said: “It’s great for London Scottish as a club that the SRU have made that commitment to try strengthen and make it better.
“I’m not sure of the ins and outs but generally such change does get a reaction and Scottish have won their last two games.
“We know it’s going to be an extremely tough game and, for me, it’s massive as it will show how much we’ve learned from previous matches played against them.
“We can implement some of the things we now know about them and also sharpen up but it will be a hard fixture down there.”
Redpath has opted for former Leeds Rhinos captain Kevin Sinfield as his fly-half.
“I think Kev’s done enough to justify playing every week now,” he said.
“He’s put in some good performances, keeps learning and he’s good for the group as well so that’s what we’ve gone with.”