Leeds Carnegie proved they are worthy of the title of Yorkshire Carnegie with a convincing victory over their county rivals Rotherham Titans.
Carnegie shed the Leeds name at the end of the season to take on a Yorkshire moniker that is designed to harness the best talent and resources available in the White Rose to have a better chance of sustainability in the Premiership.
It is a move that has not gone down too well elsewhere, notably Rotherham, who rightfully have ambitions of their own on being a Premiership club, and Yorkshire’s leading operation.
But with both teams already certain of a top-four finish and a place in the promotion play-offs, it is Leeds who will go into those full of confidence.
A dominant performance from their forward pack – most notably from No 8 Ryan Burrows and lock Mike Myerscough – helped blow the Titans away in the first half of a game played in front of the television cameras and in early-evening sunshine at Sheffield’s Abbeydale Stadium.
The game was played away from Rotherham’s traditional home of Clifton Lane because, under the terms of the lease agreement, cricket takes precedence in the summer months.
That neutralised a lot of what makes Rotherham so formidable and they had no answer to Carnegie’s fast start.
Such was their dominance, Leeds had won the game by the interval, Glyn Hughes kicking four penalties for repeated offenses at the breakdown, before backs Fred Burdon and Christian Georgiou crossed the whitewash, the second try a slick move begun in their own half by hooker Joe Graham and fashioned by a break from Stevie McColl.
“We try to play fast like that every week and luckily it came off,” said Burrows, a former Titans favourite who has developed into one of the most robust flankers in the Championship at Leeds.
“The two tries we got before half-time blew Rotherham away.”
The Titans were rewarded for a brighter start to the second half with a try by their own bulldozing flanker Ali Birch.
But just as they got on top Leeds’s pack squeeze the life out of them.
Three tries were traded in the final 10 minutes, Rotherham’s Jamie Broadley scoring on either wing, the second a peach after a break by Sean Scanlon.
But they were kept at arms length by a rolling maul that drew a penalty try under the posts with Burrows at the heart of it.
“It was a good victory but just another on the road to the play-off semi-finals and final,” said Burrows. “We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We’ve got another tough game against Cornish Pirates on Friday and that now becomes the target.
“We take a lot into the play-offs, but it all depends on the final game on Friday. We take things in blocks of four and this is just the third week of that.”
The victory means that barring a defeat to Pirates, Leeds will meet London Welsh in the play-offs, which get underway on the weekend of March 10 and 11.
Chris Gibson, Leeds’s director of rugby, said: “I thought we could have been better in possession but overall it was a really pleasing performance from the lads. It’s the same old cliche, you take it week by week, but we’re happy with where we are, and I think we’ll go into the play-offs with a lot of spirit and confidence.
“We feel we can play better, and we feel we can improve with ball in hand.
“It’s good to win though, it’s a nice habit to have and we’d like to finish the season with a win against Pirates on Friday.
Rotherham: Scanlon, Broadley, Roberts (Davies 70), Socino, Keating, Murphy (Law 40), White (Mulchrone 40); Hislop (Williams 40), Matthews (Morris 65), Quigley (Tampin 65), Thomas (To’oala 40), Holmes, Birch, Preece, Rieder.
Leeds: McColl, Holmes, Vickerman, Burdon, Georgiou, Hughes (Bentley 69), Hampson; Beech (Imiolek 57), Graham (Nilsen 50), Tussac (Hooper 64), Beck (Green 71), Myerscough, Sisi (Walker 71), Rowan, Burrows. Unused replacement: Lozowski.
Three Leeds Carnegie’s academy players, Taylor Prell, Lewis Boyce and Josh Bainbridge helped England win the Under-18s European Championship on Saturday morning.