INSPIRED Yorkshire Carnegie became only the second team to beat prolific Championship leaders London Irish this season yet did so amid the backdrop of immense uncertainty.
Concerned players demanded to see the board of directors last week to ask questions about the club’s future given, despite it being March, none have yet been offered new deals for 2019-20.
The responses they received from the hierarchy were not what they hoped for; Carnegie talk about getting investment to push for the Premiership but, in reality, given their current financial state, it seems they might soon struggle to even field a side in the second-tier.
As workaholic lock Matt Smith said after yesterday’s epic win, “most of the lads in there (changing rooms) have been told there’s no jobs next season.”
These are worrying times. He has already signed for Doncaster Knights for 2019-20. Expect plenty more to follow if there is no swift upturn in the club’s parlous off-field state.
It is a shame if that is what it comes to, however, considering – on the field – Carnegie produced arguably one of the best performances in the club’s history.
They had shown their indefatigable spirit to fight back and win 45-44 at Bedford Blues the previous week but star-studded Irish, all set for an immediate return to the Premiership, was a different entity entirely. It appears not.
It is a sign of how far Carnegie have come under the stewardship of Chris Stirling and Steve Boden that they were embarrassed 72-5 at Irish in October but secured a try bonus-point win against the same opponents and dominated them in so many areas at Emerald Headingley yesterday.
Irish had won 15 of their 16 league games so far, their only reverse being a stoppage-time 17-14 defeat in Jersey in November, but rarely have they come across a foe as determined, well-drilled and courageous as the hosts here.
Centre Pete Lucock was inspirational scoring two first-half tries and then helping to create their other two in the second period but the only place to start really is with the Carnegie scrum.
Their front-row, with Nic Mayhew and Sam Nixon immense, did such a job on Patric Cilliers that the former Springboks loosehead was replaced after just 34 minutes. Moments earlier, referee Jack Makepeace had needed to talk to the ex-Leicester Tiger and his captain Josh McNally after the Irish conceded two scrum penalties in quick succession.
The hosts’ dominance in this area started early and hardly let-up. They forced a fifth-minute penalty and, though Jade Te Rure missed the shot, they soon earned a scrum free-kick and opted to scrum again, showing their confidence in Mayhew, Nixon et al.
It was merited; Irish’s set-piece crumbled yet again and it would be a pattern of the first half.
Carnegie scored the opening try in the tenth minute when Te Rure chipped over a lovely midfield kick, first phase from a line-out on halfway, and Lucock kicked on before sliding over.
After Cilliers’s indiscretions, the long-serving centre added his second try in the 33 minute.
Carnegie drove the line-out close, worked towards the posts and then saw Lucock cut a brilliant line to latch onto JB Bruzilier’s equally as impressive fired pass.
Bruzilier’s box-kicking during the first half, in particular, was excellent and, with such willing runners outside him, that tactic, too, caused the Irish back-three no end of problems.
Granted, the visitors had plenty of territory in the first period but they did little with it.
Carnegie stole their first line-out of the afternoon and, on a number of occasions, forced handling errors with the ferocity of their tackling.
Fly-half Ian Keatley thought he had got through picking up a scrappy long line-out but Antonio Kiri Kiri tackled him and then brilliantly forced a turnover.
Similarly, captain Richard Mayhew came up with a crunching effort to leave Dave Porecki spilling after the hooker had been put through by TJ Ioane’s clever inside pass.
The work rate from Carnegie was terrific, putting belief in their ability to kick into the wind and defend.
Irish only responded before the break when one such kick was blown back, Ollie Hoskins eventually getting over.
Winger Topsy Ojo added their second in the 45th minute but, this time, Keatley missed the kick to leave Carnegie 14-12 ahead.
The hosts’ finished stronger, however, staying patient before Lucock dummied through for Elijah Niko to get in on 69.
Ojo spilled Lucock’s steepling kick to gift Andy Forsyth the final try, Chris Elder improving in a famous victory.
Yorkshire Carnegie: Elder; Watkins, Forsyth, Lucock, Niko; Te Rure, Bruzulier; N Mayhew (Hill 66), Buckle (Donnellan 66), Nixon (Foster 50), Lemalu, Smith, R Mayhew (Wilson 76), Kiri Kiri (Bainbridge 76), Temm.
London Irish: McLean (Atkins 78); Ojo (Macken 77), Stephenson, Hepetema, Loader; Keatley, McKibbin (Macken 60); Cilliers (Chawatama 34), Porecki (Van Vuuren 77), Hoskins, Van Der Merwe (Maddison 60), McNally, Schatz, Ioane, Rogerson (Treviranus 60).
Referee: Jack Makepeace.