Faltering Carnegie facing a ‘must-win’ Plymouth clash

Gary Mercer

Gary Mercer

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If Stuart Lancaster thinks he has it rough, he should take a look at what’s going on at his old club.

While Leeds Tykes’ former player, academy coach and director of rugby attempts to stem the rising tide of negative headlines surrounding his England team, his old club are encountering similar difficulties.

While England desperately need to deliver a victory against Samoa tomorrow, Carnegie’s need for a win is equally pressing.

Their much publicised name change from Leeds to Yorkshire in the summer, for all its merits, has done nothing but backfire so far.

Home defeats by Doncaster Knights and Rotherham Titans have merely heightened the animosity felt by those clubs and their fans at Carnegie’s summer rebrand, which smacked of a team professing to be the county’s No 1.

Right now, Yorkshire Carnegie are Yorkshire’s No 3, and the rest of the county are either revelling in it or washing their hands of it.

Their ambitions for the new Broad Acres-wide enterprise are noble. They have the infrastructure, the history and the RFU academy to support their claims to be a sustainable Premiership club.

But in these early days of the venture, when the tangible signs of progress are minimal, it is hard to look upon the rebrand as a positive.

The takeover of the club by the local investors Carnegie hoped to attract in the summer has been delayed.

The initial deadline for investment was the end of October. Two weeks ago, the club announced that the time frame had moved on to December 31. The club say discussions with interested parties are at a delicate stage and should not be rushed.

Behind the scenes the club have not helped matters. This week they were docked a point in the British and Irish Cup for fielding an ineligible player, Romanian winger Stephen Hihetah.

It was an administrational oversight by Carnegie in a competition they have never treated with the highest of regards, but it was still embarrassing.

On the pitch, at least, they should get back to winning ways tonight. Plymouth Albion haven’t won a game since March.

But Carnegie have won only two of their opening seven games in the Championship and Mercer has yet to impose himself on their playing style.

After coming in only six days before the start of the season, what chance did he have?

It took Carnegie nine weeks to appoint James Lowes’ successor, and their dithering in the summer has had a knock-on effect on the start the team has made.

In the absence of a head coach, experienced players had to stand up in the summer to ensure pre-season was not lost.

Their voices are still being heard now. Against Rotherham they looked a team torn between the attacking principles that have served them so well in recent seasons, and Mercer’s desire to make them defensively tighter, which in the long run should serve them well.

Defeat at Bedford last Friday – so often a happy hunting ground for Leeds – was another disappointment for Yorkshire.

Tonight’s fixture is Carnegie’s last in the Championship until December 20. It is a must-win game for so many reasons.

There is time for Carnegie to transform their fortunes. But how they could do with a positive headline, and the sooner the better.

Mercer has made four changes to his side for tonight’s clash with Plymouth, kick-off 8pm.

The changes are split equally between the backs and the forwards. In the backline, Oli Goss replaces Christian Georgiou on the wing while Pete Lucock comes in for Jon Clarke at centre.

In the forwards, Charlie Beech replaces Lee Imiolek at loose-head prop and Phil Nilsen is at hooker with Imiolek and Jack Walker reverting to the replacements.

On the bench, long-serving Richard Beck returns from injury for his first appearance of the season.

Callum Irvine. Picture Scott Merrylees

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