Yorkshire Carnegie v London Irish - Bryan Redpath looking to bow out with winning smile
IT IS a strange scenario for head coach Bryan Redpath tonight '“ urging his Yorkshire Carnegie side to take a major leap towards promotion yet knowing, if they do prosper against the odds, he will not be there to experience the gains.
They host favourites London Irish in the Championship final first leg at Headingley with the return at Reading next Wednesday, the ultimate prize of Premiership rugby awaiting the victors.
However, former Scotland captain Redpath announced in January that he would be walking away from the sport at the end of this season to take up a role in the financial sector.
Essentially, then, this evening is the first ‘half’ of his final game in a career that has spanned 60 caps and trophies with Sale Sharks and Gloucester before taking over as coach at both clubs.
“It’s probably only the last 10 days I’ve thought about it,” said Redpath, when asked about how that prospect feels.
“Not because it’s my last game but because it‘s the last real challenge for me in this industry. It’s going to be tough, no question, but I don’t have many regrets in the 21 years I’ve been a pro’.
“It will be difficult not wearing a tracksuit, having to shave, being home and seeing the missus... all the little things lots of men have to do!
“As a sportsman generally every two weeks you’re away in a hotel and you can watch Sky Sports, no one shouts at you, you have the controls… I am going to miss it.
“But I have fond memories and Wednesday night’s about being happy and enjoying it.
“If you’re happy and enjoy it, and care, you will fight for whatever you believe in, for every lost cause and won’t die wondering.
“We will never get another Championship play-off final (automatic promotion returns in 2017-18) and if we’re not good enough, we’re not good enough.
“If we are we can have a few lagers when it ends.”
Irish, of course, are expected to win an immediate return to the Premiership with a side that includes British Lions loosehead Tom Court and World Cup-winning All Black tighthead Ben Franks to name just two.
They have lost just once all season in the Championship, at Jersey, so Carnegie, who finished second, will hope nerves creep into the visitors’ game to perhaps unsettle them at this crucial stage.
Even if the recent downpours continue, that is hardly going to act as a leveller considering Irish are not averse to forward-dominated rugby given those aforementioned front-rows.
However, Carnegie only lost 20-14 when they last faced each other at Headingley as Redpath recalled: “That was two tries apiece.
“They kicked two penalties, we missed two, with Tom Catterick’s two in the first 15 minutes.
“I know they’ll never say that but that was the most physical game Irish have probably had all season.
“We know we have to bring that physicality in and some intensity in how we conduct the contact area – and speed of ball – to challenge them.”
Redpath has continually pressed home the need for accuracy and a clinical touch which has often betrayed them this season.
“We can talk about it but ultimately Wednesday night we’re going to find out if we can hold our nerve and execute,” he admitted.
“We’re going to find out where it is, whether we’re good enough mentally as a group to deal with it. That’s the big thing.
“We’ve come a long way in two years to get to this. Now let’s fire some bullets at them and make them show they’re the best team in the league.
“If we do that we can never question it can we?”
Redpath prefers Seb Stegmann to Stevie McColl on the wing for his aerial prowess.
Bench prop Rob O’Donnell is selected ahead of Michael Cusack for his greater ball-carrying, Tom Casson replaces the injured centre Andy Forsyth while Dream Team hooker Phil Nilson is injured.