DO NOT mention the ‘P’ word to Yorkshire Carnegie.
For all their primary aim currently and throughout this season has been earning promotion into the Premiership, fly-half Joe Ford insists there can be no energy spent thinking about it now.
It will be close given the very nature of the play-offs but we’re prepared for thatCarnegie’s Joe Ford
As they prepare for tonight’s Championship play-off semi-final first leg at Ealing Trailfinders, most people expect them to reach the final for a shoot-out with, most likely, the heavy favourites London Irish, who face Doncaster Knights on Sunday.
But this is now Carnegie’s sixth attempt at trying to win back a place in the top-flight and they have still yet to even reach a Championship final so they will not expect anything.
Indeed, head coach Bryan Redpath admitted they failed to “handle the occasion” as well as Doncaster 12 months ago, his side getting too “caught up in the semi-final nature” of the game rather than focusing on the match itself.
The consensus is they are better prepared now having finished second, their best return since relegation in 2011, and, in fairness, with a return of “first-past-the-post” promotion next season, they do need to finally achieve it.
Ford was in the side that lost 34-30 on aggregate to Newcastle Falcons in the 2012-13 semi-finals while the margin of defeat the following year – after he had left for Premiership Sale Sharks – was smaller still, just two points separating them from London Welsh.
Ford, who rejoined ahead of this season, told said: “With all due respect, this is the best opportunity yet with the squad we have and the way the play-off system works.
“It would mean everything to go up. They are a great bunch of lads here.
“Brush (Redpath) and the coaches have put so much work into us and it is really important this club gets back into the Premiership.
“But we can’t look past Ealing on Friday first and foremost. We can’t think about promotion; if we do that Ealing will beat us.”
Granted, it is Ealing’s first venture into the play-offs but that did not deter Doncaster last term, the Knights reaching the final and pushing Bristol so close during their maiden dalliance with the top-four.
Ealing finished third, just six points behind Carnegie, which is a remarkable achievement given it is only their second campaign in the Championship and last season they were embroiled in a relegation fight.
However, they have lost three of the four meetings with Carnegie this term, both league matches and one of their two British & Irish Cup contests.
Of course, though, all of that means nothing now as Ford is quick to attest.
“With the play-offs, you go through all those games and then it almost gets thrown out of the window and you start all over again,” said the 26-year-old, brother of England star George. “It is strange but it’s exciting for the neutrals, at least.
“The lads are feeling quite confident. Ealing have been really good and have improved since the first game of the season when we beat them (30-13) down there.
“It will be close given the very nature of the play-offs but we’re prepared for that and it coming down to just five points or so.
“It is just about winning now; if you win every game the rest takes care of itself. Performance is obviously important but winning is the most important.”
Fellow semi-finalists Doncaster have said they won’t accept promotion if they win the title as it is “unaffordable” in the current structure and financial arrangement for professional rugby in England and they will not “cripple ourselves chasing something that is not feasible at this time.”