DEAN Ryan says Worcester Warriors will not be taking a place in the Championship play-off final for granted this season.
The top four clubs qualify for the end-of-season showpiece with Warriors and Bristol the overwhelming favourites to reach the final.
But, before that, there are 22 matches for the Sixways side to negotiate and director of rugby Ryan is not expecting an easy ride for his new-look squad.
He is aware Bristol lost in the final to London Welsh last season, despite topping the table, while Warriors themselves almost came unstuck in the semis against Bedford Blues the last time they were in the second tier.
Ryan is also trying to juggle bedding in 17 new players while ensuring Worcester remain focused on trying to return to the Premiership at the first attempt following last season’s comprehensive relegation.
He said: “A lot of people want to rush to the end and cement what the final will be but I’m sure there are a lot of clubs who are highly motivated to try to disrupt that.
“We’ve got to make sure we respect this competition at the same time as we grow ourselves as a squad.
“There are proven Championship sides who make life very difficult. We respect what this competition is going to throw at us.
“That doesn’t mean we’re going to get everything right but we’re well aware of how we need to conduct ourselves to give ourselves the best chance to be there at the end.
“Prior to Christmas, we may see a much wider spread of players playing so we can refine things.
“The play-offs don’t give you a second go and we need to be pretty clear who it is we want to start for us.
“We need to manage that and also respect the competition and make sure we get there.
“We’re building this up to be a successful Premiership side so the first stepping stone is to be successful.
“We can’t afford not to respect the competition or opponents, who equally will be saying the same things, and we can’t afford not to understand how much we need to get better from where we are now to the end of the play-offs in order to be successful.
“But, given all those things, we’re still pretty confident we can have a successful season.”
Warriors open their season with an early crunch clash at Bristol on Sunday, September 7, before a much different challenge at home to West Midlands side Moseley on Saturday, September 13.
Former Gloucester boss Ryan, 48, added: “We’ve got to be better at internally managing our own standards so they’re driven by us.
“There is inconsistency in the Championship from playing different sides week in, week out, whereas the Premiership has a consistent challenge every week and if you don’t meet the standards you lose.
“That’s not necessarily going to be around as regularly in the Championship so internally we’ve got to look at ways of keeping our own standards up.”
Warriors’ string of new signings include former Northampton forward GJ van Velze, ex-Harlequins wing Sam Smith, Bath old boy Tom Biggs and Gloucester’s Matt Cox and Ryan Mills.