HENDRE Fourie was the proverbial helpless bystander on Sunday – and didn’t like it one bit.
The teak-tough flanker cut a powerless figure as his Leeds Carnegie team-mates plumbed the depths in a morale-sapping loss to big relegation rivals Newcastle Falcons when he watched on agonisingly from the touchline.
The cringeworthy 22-5 defeat made for the most painful of viewing for the Carnegie faithful present in the 5,110 crowd at Headingley and those watching the action unfold on the television – and if you think if was hard for supporters, it was a whole load tougher for Fourie and his England team-mate Steve Thompson.
The pair who sampled Six Nations highs after coming on from the bench in the Red Rose’s potentially seminal victory over arch-rivals France at Twickenham the previous day, headed back up the M1 to do their bit to rally their Carnegie team-mates ahead of their most important match of the season against Falcons.
But the weekend took a distinct turn for the worse for the pair, thankful for small mercies in that they have been cleared to appear for Carnegie this Sunday, with England having a blank weekend ahead of their Calcutta Cup encounter with Scotland on March 13.
On a horror Sunday tea-time, Fourie said: “It was difficult watching. If you are on the pitch, you can at least try to do something to help.
“But on the sidelines, there’s nothing you can do except hold your head in your hands and hope something turns.
“Having not played much for the past few weeks, I was itching to get on. I wished I could have gone on, but unfortunately you are not allowed.
“I don’t think anything I’d have said in the dressing room would have changed anybody’s minds or attitudes afterwards. Everybody was down and not very happy.
“Thankfully, I’m involved again this weekend and hopefully we can do a job on London Irish.
“We’ve just got to look forward and keep on going.”
Monday was a testing day of sober reflection for Carnegie players left to pick up the pieces of a shattering defeat, with their Premiership tenure hanging by a threat.
With just eight games to go and Carnegie effectively eight points adrift of safety, time is running out for Neil Back’s troops, architects of their own downfall against Falcons after coughing up a multitude of ball and squandering the lions’ share of possession.
The emphasis this week has been rectifying that glaring deficiency against Irish and the proof in the pudding will come against Toby Booth’s side, who Carnegie famously turned over in an heroic 23-13 victory last spring.
And you sense something of the same ilk will be required tomorrow against the Exiles back in form with two wins out of three after their February 12 victory against Newcastle ended a winless Premiership streak stretching back to October.
Fourie said: “You’ve just got to put it behind you, pick yourselves up and go forward. It’s a hard task, but that’s all you can do, otherwise you (just) go down.
“If our ball retention was better, we’d have ended up with points (on Sunday). That’s what we’ve been working on this week and you need to be really critical about that.
“You’d rather have the ball than defend and hopefully we’ll sort that out.
“It’s not over until you are relegated. There’s still enough points for us to get to stay up and that’s what we’ve got to try to do.
“We’ve made it really difficult for ourselves now and we’re in the same situation again (as last year).
Fourie is raring to go after largely being a bit-part player in England’s Six Nations campaign and is hedging his bets over whether he gets much more game time in the remaining two matches with skipper Lewis Moody on the mend.
He said: “My body feels fresh, but I’d rather have played a few full 80’s than not really playing (recently) and hopefully I’ll get a good run-out (on Sunday).
“Lewis is getting back from injury and we’ll see how it goes (with England). I can only play as well as I can and if I’m picked or otherwise, we’ll see. The main aim is helping Leeds stay up in the Premiership.”
On last week’s France win, he added: “It was awesome to beat the French on my first time against them. It was a hard-fought game, but that’s how some games will go.
“You can’t always have games of rugby with loads of flair and tries. If it was a one-point game, a win’s a win and that’s all you need. And we won and they didn’t and that was the main thing.”