London Welsh must bring their A game every week in the Greene King IPA Championship if they are to be in contention for a top four finish, says club captain Matt Corker.
The Exiles made it two wins from two last Sunday with victory over Nottingham at Meadow Lane to go second in the table, having beaten Bedford Blues at Allianz Park in round 1, but Corker believes Welsh can ill afford to rest on their laurels given the fiercely competitive nature of the league.
Corker will be hoping to make his 187th appearance for the club next Saturday against Plymouth Albion (kick-off 2:30pm), as the Exiles make their Championship bow at the Kassam Stadium this season.
It’s a competition in which Corker has earned his stripes. Having featured in Welsh’s very first Championship fixture, against Bristol at the Memorial Stadium on September 5, 2009, he played a prominent role in the club’s promotion season of 2011/12, and is therefore well placed to comment on the quality of the league.
“The Championship is so competitive that everyone brings their A game every week,” said Corker. “It’s a fantastic standard of rugby and there are all different types of professionals plying their trade.
“You’ve got guys just starting out who really want to make a name for themselves, and then you’ve got players towards the end of their careers just enjoying the game. That mix is really exciting and produces a very good brand of rugby.
“In comparison to the season we were promoted, the standard has definitely gone up in the Championship. It’s improving and through the course of the season the standard will improve massively as cohesion builds within all teams.”
Welsh are no exception to that and Corker believes there’s plenty more to come from this Exiles team.
“We’ve made a fantastic start but when we look at the way we performed in those two games we’re aware that there’s more to come from us,” he said.
“We’re really focusing on our accuracy at the moment, as that’s something that’s letting us down – the amount of turnovers - but two wins is great.
“The most exciting thing about London Welsh is that there is a massive amount of potential. It’s up to us as individuals to make sure that we fulfil that – it’s really important for us to keep pushing forward as a team.”
The biggest structural change since Welsh’s Championship winning season has seen a top four finish become the target, to secure a place in the play-offs, rather than just top eight. A change which has added a real competitive edge to the regular season.
“Results are more important than when you could finish in the top eight and at this stage of the season if that means winning ugly we’ll definitely take that, if that’s how the wins are going to come,” said Corker.
Not that Welsh’s two wins so far have been ugly. The Exiles ran in three tries against the Blues and crossed four times against Nottingham in a powerful second half display.
“It’s all about making sure we keep tinkering and fine-tuning our performances week after week. We’re not a million miles away at all – not by any means - and just a few small changes here and there will make a massive difference in terms of our overall performance,” he added.
Welsh will be eager therefore to make it three wins from three at the Kassam Stadium when third placed Plymouth Albion are the visitors. It will be the Exiles’ first Championship appearance at their home ground this season, although they did host the Scarlets in a pre-season friendly last month.
“It feels like ages since we’ve had a home game. Playing the Scarlets was fantastic and that was great for all the new lads to get the lie of the land at the Kassam,” said Corker.
“But Saturday is the one that really counts and everyone is really excited. We’re very fortune to be playing at the Kassam again this season – everyone loves playing in a fantastic stadium and that’s exactly what the Kassam is.”
The club’s most senior player, Corker was appointed club captain in the summer by head coach Justin Burnell. It’s a role and a responsibility he’s embraced, and one that has come with some unusual duties, such as dinner with Lord Kinnock at the recent London Welsh Supporters Club organised ‘Sportsman’s Lunch’ at Royal Mid Surrey Golf Club.
“That was very exciting; my wife (Hayley) was very jealous, she wanted to meet him. It feels really good to be helping to steer the lads in the right direction off the field and making sure we’re creating the right environment at the club for us to be as successful as possible. That’s where I see my role,” he said.