REALISTICALLY, Yorkshire Carnegie could have – and perhaps should – already be viewing their season as over.
They were utterly out-played yesterday for much of this Championship play-offs semi-final first leg against Doncaster Knights.
Trailing 27-3 at Headingley after 64 minutes, their dominant visitors were so far on top you could envisage them comfortably passing the 40-point mark, essentially making next Sunday’s second leg a dead rubber.
However, thanks largely to the towering No8 Ryan Burrows, who breathed life into Carnegie with a series of bullocking runs late on, they came away still defeated but still in the tie. He stormed through to lay the platform for Oli Goss’ try in the 70th minute and then, after another run and with just 37 seconds of normal time remaining, Chris Walker crossed from a driving maul.
The energised hosts, throwing the ball around at will, pressed for a further score in almost 10 minutes of injury-time but Doncaster – whose fine scrum had put them in such control – held on.
Carnegie head coach Bryan Redpath, though, was left encouraged.
“We have to do better in most parts – set-piece, handling, discipline – and take the criticism on the chin,” admitted the former Scotland scrum-half.
“But it’s not lost. We’re 13-nil (down) at the start. It’s a great challenge for us, it will be tough and we have to come out with a must-win game next week.
“But we saw at the end there what we can do against them.”
Carnegie, who finished third behind second-placed Doncaster in the regular season, were destroyed in the scrum for large parts and suffered a costly yellow card to prop Charlie Beech just before the break.
“We didn’t perform well around our set-piece and they capitalised on that,” added Redpath, who conceded his side seemed “nervy”.
“We never kept the ball in the right areas but we got back to what was a respectable score and it gives us a chance.
“Now we know exactly what we need to do.
“We have to be a lot better as a team so there’s no place to hide but we’ll go again next Sunday.”
Carnegie’s defence was alarmingly soft to concede tries to Doncaster centre Will Hurrell in the sixth minute and, again, when – with Beech off for dragging down a maul – winger Andy Bulumakau squeezed over in the 38th. Declan Cusack converted both having also slotted a penalty in between and all Carnegie could muster was Kevin Sinfield’s injury-time penalty as they went in 17-3 down.
The visitors scored a penalty try at the start of the second period when their scrum yet again proved too powerful.
Cusack converted and added the second of his three penalties, too.
But Carnegie, with nothing to lose, finally found some edge to keep their promotion bid alive. Just.
Yorkshire Carnegie: Holmes; Goss (Imiolek 45-50 Sinfield 76), Forsyth, Lucock, Prell; Sinfield (Hodgson 63), Pilgrim (Green 61); Beech (Imiolek 50), J Walker (Nilsen 76), O’Donnell (Tideswell 50), Myerscough (Schofield 50), Smith, Beck, Saull (C Walker 50), Burrows.
Doncaster Knights: Jarvis; Bulumakau (Bryant 67), Clark, Hurrell, Lewis; Cusack, Heaney; List (Brugnara 62), Hunter (Veikoso 79), Quigley (John 56), Challinor (Young 72), Phelan, Makaafi (Stedman 62), Hills, Shaw. Replacement unused: Field.
Referee: Craig Maxwell Keys (RFU).