After a strong start to the season, Carnegie found themselves briefly top of the table, but a second place position after winning six of their first eight Greene King Championship games was a fair reflection. Since November, however, the Headingley side have lost all three league games and have slipped to third place in the table, five points behind Doncaster in second place and a full nine points adrift of leaders Bristol Rugby.
There is a number of reasons for this, of course. The B&I Cup has proved something of a distraction, enabling Redpath to make a number of changes, providing game time against sometimes lesser opposition, and building confidence with a couple of impressive victories. Such opportunities for experimentation have not necessarily been translated into the positives the Club would hope for, however, and Carnegie enter the Christmas and New Year period desperate to keep up with the leading pack in the league table.
After a third successive league defeat at Nottingham, the B&I Cup win over London Scottish turned into something of a Sunday afternoon stroll for Carnegie. As the second ‘on-the-road’ event – the first was reverted back to Headingley after the Huddersfield YMCA pitch became rain-soaked – Carnegie travelled to Scarborough’s Silver Royd ground and after a tight first half enjoyed a dominant second forty minutes to run away with the game 56-7. The game was in the balance at half-time and Redpath will have been delighted with the determination and cutting edge shown in the second half.
Kevin Sinfield was restored to the starting line-up at fly half versus London Scottish, having been dropped to the bench for the Nottingham game, and rival fly half Harry Leonard was fielded in the inside centre position. The game provided good kicking practice for Sinfield, who has not quite found consistency yet with his kicking boot in Union. The Rhinos legend scored points via five conversions and three penalties, and his only flaw was a missed conversion from distance. Although Joel Hodgson replaced Sinfield late on, it was noticeable how the 35-year-old BBC Sports Personality of the Year nominee was more influential in general play also.
Sinfield himself has spoken this week of how he is enjoying the ‘buzz’ of Rugby Union games, a concern he held in terms of whether he could replicate it when switching codes. He also spoke of slowly understanding the game more each week, finding certain aspects more natural to him through training repetition and also being able to pace himself through the 80 minutes better. This was evident when a superb cross-field kick in open play from Sinfield resulted in David Doherty going over for a second half try. Insignificant in the big scheme of things, but a little tonic which could help Sinfield shine.
The occasion of Sinfield’s league debut at Headingley on 27th November was something of a let-down, despite the 3,672 attendance which almost doubled Carnegie’s average crowd for the season. The home side lost 7-10 in a tight game littered with errors and poor decisions, and Sinfield didn’t get on the scoresheet, missing a penalty in the first half before Joel Hodgson converted his own try late on to monopolise the point-scoring. It was the same story at Nottingham a week later when a converted try and two penalties from Hodgson accounted for all of Carnegie’s points in a tough game they narrowly lost 14-13, having briefly led in the second half.
Redpath took the opportunity to shuffle his pack again against London Scottish in the B&I Cup and he was delighted with the results. In truth, only fine margins have denied Carnegie some deserved victories in recent weeks. Redpath spoke about the need for his team to play in the right areas and capitalise on opportunities, and certainly they did that in Scarborough when a clinical edge came to the fore just at the right time.
Before Redpath can address the urgent need to get back on the winning path in the league, Carnegie face a return B&I Cup fixture with London Scottish this Saturday at the Athletic Ground in Richmond, Surrey. Carnegie sit top of Pool 3 after three games and will be favourites to extend their lead after the way they ruthlessly finished the Exiles off with their second half performance last weekend.
After that, Carnegie face Rotherham Titans at Headingley on Sunday December 27th, in a Christmas fixture which the Club’s hierarchy will be hoping will attract a sizeable crowd, quickly followed by a visit to Ealing Trailfinders on January 2nd. For Sinfield, playing competitive games over the Christmas and New Year period is a novelty. Of course, on the 27th, the boot prints from his former Leeds Rhinos colleagues will still be fresh in the Headingley turf from their traditional Boxing Day game against Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, but the big guns were often left out of that first friendly of the Rhinos’ pre-season programme, and the Rotherham game with points at stake will certainly be new territory for Sinfield.
The man himself has another important date before that of course, this time in Belfast where on Sunday evening (December 20th) he represents Rugby League as the first nominee from the sport for the BBC’s signature award. While Sinfield is naturally humbled by his nomination and understands completely how important such recognition is for the sport, knowing how he works, the bread and butter of winning games on the field is his natural domain. Once the pomp and ceremony is over, it will be back to business and getting Yorkshire Carnegie’s season back on track.