A LITANY of handling errors, turnover ball and attacking impotency – it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce what went wrong for shell-shocked Leeds Carnegie in their date with destiny with Newcastle Falcons.
It was an unmitigated disaster, pretty much from start to finish, for basement boys Carnegie with any sense of great expectation among supporters soon dissipating and a 22-5 reverse to their big relegation rivals seemingly hammering another giant six-inch nail into their relegation coffin.
A positive mental approach has pervaded around Carnegie for a good few years, regardless of circumstances, but it was hard to take anything from Sunday’s crushing defeat.
Stunned skipper Marco Wentzel was unable to dress things up afterwards – following Leeds’ 13th defeat in 14 league games of a wretched campaign thus far – and struggled to find redemptive answers.
Eight Premiership matches may still be on the calendar, and 40 points up for grabs, but Carnegie will have to improve a hundred-fold to give themselves a chance of safety, and even then the smart money is on that not being enough.
Top of the lengthy list of concerns is Carnegie’s inability to score tries and make enough line-breaks – a mere 14 tries in 14 league matches tells it’s own story – allied to an average of shipping 28 points per top-flight game.
On one of his worst days at the office, Wentzel, whose side had twice as much possession as Falcons – but did next to nothing with it – said: “Scoring (tries) is the question and we don’t have the answer.
“The simple thing is we don’t look after the ball and that’s down to players, not coaching or anything else. It’s the simple things we are not doing.”
He added: “We had a lot of ball, but I think that turnovers was the thing.
“That was just down to the players. We threw the ball away and didn’t respect it, especially in the scoring zones, while they defended well and tackled well.
“We didn’t play well and they used the ball nicely, despite not having as much ball as us.
“We didn’t defend well or play well, while our set-piece didn’t function. It was our fault.”
Wentzel insists the last thing Carnegie went into the game feeling was under-prepared, though appearances could certainly be deceptive with the home players serving up a performance that was error-strewn and fitful.
The South African line-out expert was at pains to point out that the build-up went like clockwork and stressed that the last thing he saw coming was such a poor Leeds display in their biggest game of the campaign.
He said: “I wish I could say we saw it coming, but we’d trained so well and had a great week’s practice. But once again, in a game, we didn’t start well.
“We had to start well but didn’t, and they scored a quick try and then we found ourselves 11-0 down which made it hard.
“It was such a difficult day. If we’d won the game, we’d have been off the bottom of the table and that would have helped us to sign players and lifted things.
“But the season’s not over, by a long shot. The defeat hurt, but we’ve just got to look forward to the next game now.”
One crumb of comfort ahead of this Sunday’s home clash with London Irish is the availability of England duo Hendre Fourie and Steve Thompson, who have been cleared to play with the Six Nations competition taking a break this weekend.
Meanwhile, England legend Back insists saving Carnegie’s top-league skins represents the biggest challenge of his illustrious career – though, typically, it’s not one he’ll shy away from.
He said: “Without a doubt this is the biggest challenge of my career. I have a massive job to do.
“But until it’s over I, the players and the management will keep fighting.
“It will be harder now, but we are still confident we can get the points we need to stay in the Premiership.
“I have a big job, but that’s what I’m paid to do. That’s where my passion is. My playing career was a challenge and this is a challenge.”