Yorkshire Carnegie: Powerpacked hooker Nilsen hails former front row partner

Yorkshire Carnegie's Phil Nilsen.

Yorkshire Carnegie's Phil Nilsen.

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Phil Nilsen has backed stand-in head coach Tommy McGee to steer Yorkshire Carnegie away from trouble and earn the top job on a permanent basis.

McGee has overseen three successive victories in the British and Irish Cup to help stabilise a team that was reeling after winning just two of eight Championship games.

They had dropped to 10th in the 12-team Championship, and although relegation to the community level of National One is not deemed a realistic threat, they have never been as far away from returning to the Premiership – a status that prompted the end of Gary Mercer’s brief reign.

The return to Championship action tomorrow against Jersey is the first of four games in five weeks that could shape the destiny of their season.

Following their trip to the Channel Islands, Carnegie face three of the four teams currently occupying a position in the all-important top four with Worcester at Headingley on Saturday week followed by difficult visits to London Scottish and unbeaten Bristol in January.

But they go into those games buoyed by their return to form in the B&I Cup, particularly the game they finished on last Saturday when they went some way to avenging two defeats to Rotherham Titans with a convincing win.

Nilsen, who was an early replacement for hooker Joe Graham last Saturday, said: “It was important to get a bit of momentum and confidence coming out of the B&I Cup.

“We played the strongest sides we could each time and rebuilt that confidence.

“We were lacking a bit of confidence but we’ve rediscovered that now by building on little things and concentrating on the positives.

“And Saturday was our best performance and it takes us into the league in really good spirits.

“We didn’t have much possession in that game but when we did get the ball we used it really well and it was a pleasing victory. To go away to a Championship side and win is always good, particularly your local rivals who had beaten us twice.

“And now we’ve got our performance levels back after a good run in the B&I Cup.

“We have now got to put that into the league form because we have got to start getting results.

“It’s not a case of do or die yet but if we want to get into that top four – which is still within reach – then we have got to start getting results quickly.”

Nilsen has also been impressed with the way McGee has united the group.

The former Scotland A prop has been given the job for the foreseeable future, a move welcomed by his former front-row team-mate.

“Tommy is a great guy and really good at managing the players,” said Nilsen. “He’s good at getting the best out of you and he knew what we needed to do to get us playing how we know we can.

“He’s done well so far. He’s a good coach, I’ve known him a long time, I’ve seen both sides of him as the player and as the coach. For me it would be fabulous for him to stay on as long as he can.”

Nilsen finds himself in a rich vein of try-scoring form for a 16-stone hooker.

He crossed last week at Clifton Lane and also plunged over in the draw with Plymouth Albion last month.

“I think this is the best run of try-scoring form I’ve been in,” he laughed. “I’ve had a lot of messages on social media and that’s a massive boost. It’s always nice to see you’ve still got that support even when things aren’t going that well.”

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OTLEY will be looking to build on last weekend’s impressive 39-10 win over Sedgley Park when they travel to face Preston Grasshoppers tomorrow, writes Oliver Roby.

Otley – sixth in National League Two North – have gone through a sticky patch, losing four of their last seven games, but they will be in determined mood after a disappointing home defeat against the Hoppers in September.

The Lancashire side – 13th – come into the game on a poor run of form of their own after losing their last three games, including a 10-0 shut-out against Caldy last week.

The clash, which kicks off at 2-30pm, has become something of a ‘War of the Roses’ in recent years, so looks set to be a feisty affair.

Harrogate are fifth in National Two North, one place above Otley in the table, and welcome West Yorkshire rivals, Huddersfield tomorrow, 2pm, after a hard-fought 34-29 away win over Luctonians.

The hosts go into the game as strong favourites having lost just three games all season, while Huddersfield have dropped points in four of their last five games and sit in 10th position.

Meanwhile Morley, of National Three North, go into the Christmas break on the back of a 20-20 draw away at Westoe.

They had chances to close out the match and take the points late on, but will be encouraged by their dominance in the game for 80 minutes.

The Maroons are sitting fourth from bottom but will be hoping to get their season back on track on January 3 when they host Firwood Waterloo.

Elsewhere, in National One, Wharfedale’s home clash with Esher fell victim to the weather last weekend, but they are back in action tomorrow, 3pm, when they travel to face Darlington Mowden Park.

Dale are currently lying in 10th place in the league, with their 31-point haul giving them a four-point cushion over this weekend’s opponents, who are in 14th.

Doncaster Knights try to force the ball over the line against Yorkshire Carnegie. PIC: Glenn Ashley

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