Leonard confident gamble will pay off with Carnegie

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As an Edinburgh player, Harry Leonard got the chance to pit his wits against some of the finest teams in Europe in the Pro12 and Heineken Cup competitions.

So his decision in the summer to leave the Scottish capital and a team that had enhanced his international aspirations for a club in the Championship, was perceived in some quarters to be a gamble.

Harry Leonard

Harry Leonard

When the circumstances he came into began evolving rapidly around him – including two coaching changes – then that gamble appeared to have been an unwise one.

But Leonard, 22, has carried himself with great distinction as befitting a team-leading fly-half, and as an ever-present in the club’s Championship squad, he has been one of the few positives in a difficult season.

The No 10 has started all but two of the club’s Championship games, and came off the bench in those two games.

“I’ve had plenty of game time, which was something that frustrated me up in Scotland,” says the former Scotland Under-20s captain, who has scored 115 points in 14 games for Carnegie.

“If you weren’t in the first team of the two big clubs you were loaned out to a lot poorer standard.

“Teams attack the ball a lot more as opposed to kicking it in the Championship.

“The Pro 12 is very much defence-dominated and centred around a kicking game, and that can get very frustrating at times.

“There’s an average of 10 fewer kicks in the game in the Championship, so I’m really enjoying it and I feel as though I’m progressing well.”

His own development goes hand-in-hand with that of the team’s, for whom progress has been glacial at best given all the upheavel.

Tommy McGee, the stand-in head coach, has steadied the ship somewhat, even if defeats in their last two games against Worcester and London Scottish have left them still a long way from the top-four promotion play-offs – 16 points to be exact.

Back-to-back games away to leaders Bristol in the Championship on Sunday and British and Irish Cup next Friday suggest it will only get harder before it gets easier, but Leonard is bullish about the strides the team is making.

“It has been difficult with the management changes but we’ve pulled the positives out of every situation we could,” he said.

“It would have been easy to let our heads drop but we haven’t done that. The endeavour is definitely there and as the season progresses we’ll start to get those results.

“Week on week, through our review process, we can see things are falling into place.

“Two games against Bristol is tough but I don’t think we’d have it any other way. What better games than these to put a marker down and prove to people that we are improving by beating the best in the league.”

Although Carnegie are hampered by the absence of Rob Vickerman, Mike Mysercough and Richard Beck through injury on Sunday, Leonard believes they can get back to the style of attacking rugby that suited them so well last year, but was knocked out of them by defensive-minded Gary Mercer.

“We have a lot of ball-playing forwards and lads that are very mobile around the pitch which is quite unique, and I don’t think we were making the most of it,” he said.

“We know we’ve massively under-performed this season. Is top four attainable? I’m not going to say ‘no’, we will always strive to get there. There’s no team we should fear in this league.”