YORKSHIRE CARNEGIE can go into the Championship semi-finals in confident mood after ending the league season on a high.
Coach Bryan Redpath made 12 changes to his starting line-up for the dead-rubber at home to third-placed Ealing Trailfinders.
Carnegie were still far too strong for the Londoners and will fancy their chances against the same opposition in the play-offs following a 33-20 victory.
Yorkshire will visit Ealing for the first leg on Friday, April 28, with the deciding game at Headingley a week later. The winners will face either league leaders London Irish or Doncaster, who finished fourth, in next month’s promotion final, also over two legs.
With the season resting on the next two games, neither team wanted to give anything away in the closing league encounter, but Yorkshire were clearly the better side.
Only Andy Forsyth, Pete Lucock and Chris Elder, who was drafted in late on after Max Wright suffered an ankle injury, retained their place in the starting 15 from the previous week’s win at Bedford which secured second spot in the table.
Several of the players who were called up will have given Redpath something to think about ahead of the semi-final, in particular blindside-flanker Richard Beck. He scored the opening try after a rolling maul near Ealing’s line – Warren Seals landing the first of his four conversions – and James Thraves, who had a strong game, went over from Dan Sanderson’s pass.
That came after Ealing had been reduced to 14 men with Chris York sin-binned. Aaron Penberthy had got Trailfinders off the mark with a penalty goal, seconds after hitting a post from a similar attempt and he converted when the visitors were awarded a penalty try following a spell of pressure on Yorkshire’s line just before the interval. Matt Beesley drove over for the hosts’ third touchdown early in the second half and – after another Penberthy penalty – they scored the try of the game, created by Steve McColl and Elder and finished by Forsyth.
Mike Myerscough set up a try for Mike Mayhew to make it 31-13 at the start of the final quarter. Willie Ryan pulled a try back, improved by Penberthy, 10 minutes from time and Ealing applied some fierce pressure after that, but strong defence kept them out.
Redpath was “delighted” with the result and performance, particularly with a much-changed side.
“I thought we were great,” he said. “Beck was outstanding, Chris Elder was pretty active and generally everyone was good, despite not having had much rugby. Defensively we were strong and we worked hard for each other. We were under pressure at times and we scrambled well – I am chuffed to bits.”
Redpath added: “We now know how tough the next two challenges are going to be.
“We know the set-piece is a massive strength of theirs, but if we can compete and get parity at that strength we are in with a chance, definitely.
“We will bring in some players and we’ve got a great opportunity on our hands. We should be excited and buzzing for it.”
Yorkshire Carnegie: McColl, Elder, Forsyth, Lucock, Goss, Seals, Green, Beesley, Mayhew, Thraves, Schofield, Sanderson, Beck, Saull, Staples. Replacements Poole, Boyce, Cusack, Whetton, Myerscough, Allan, Bullough.
Ealing Trailfinders: Harries, Crane, Jones, Ellis, Chesters, Penberthy, Carter, Gibbons, Walker, Rodman, Maddison, Towson, York, Smid, Murphy. Replacements Lawrence, Davis, Thiede, Ryan, Peters, Davies, Clegg.
Referee: Matthew O’Grady.