Baldwin is drafted in as Leeds look for leadership

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DiCCon Edwards takes no pleasure in sounding like a broken record.

After every defeat, the Leeds Carnegie head coach is left to bemoan his side’s decision-making capabilities.

It is an excuse that frustates him.

For a coach can teach physical practices until he is blue in the face. But once his players cross the white line it is up to them to make the right decisions at the right times.

Twice this season, Leeds have lost games from winning positions, leaving Edwards tearing his hair out at his young side’s failure to manage the game appropriately.

To help correct that Edwards this week brought in Wharfedale stalwart Rob Baldwin, a long-time club captain and former leader of the England Counties side.

The acquisition of the 27-year-old back-row forward also goes some way to furthering Leeds’s cause as the club that can offer Yorkshire rugby union players a route to the top.

But to get back to the top as a club, Edwards acknowledges that his players need to take responsibility for their actions on the pitch.

“Every team talks about the spine of your team being the key decision makers and that’s something that we are still developing,” said Edwards, whose side welcome Bristol to Headingley Carnegie tomorrow.

“It’s about taking responsibility as a leadership group and that’s something we’ve worked on this week.

“Jacob Rowan has been an outstanding captain for us, his performances are getting better and better, his professionalism, his work ethic are second to none.

“He won’t let anybody down and he leads by example. But he needs that support network around him of other people taking responsibility.

“We are getting it right in the training week, definitely, because we have a very driven, responsible leadership group.

“And it’s getting to a stage where at the back end of the week the players will take responsibility for driving what we do in training, what we do next, what our strategy and tactics are etc.

“That allows us as coaches to reflect on that and keep them focussed.

“Then what we’re trying to do is put them in different situations where they have to make decisions. That’s how you learn.

“Where we need to improve now is for that to come out in the games, for players to say right this is what we are going to do, this is what we need to do, these are the areas where we are going to make the difference.

“Doing that on Sunday will be a step forward for us and will hopefully turn good performances into winning performances.”

Having lost two of their opening three games on very fine margins, Edwards accepts there is an element of pressure on himself and the team to perform tomorrow in a fixture they go into as underdogs.

“There’s a little bit of pressure, we’ve just got to make sure we improve on what we did last week,” said Edwards, who enjoyed his first win as Leeds head coach in the corresponding fixture last September.

“The challenge is to not let the pressure of the scoreboard or a tight game detract from what we are trying to do, which is getting the small bits and pieces right.

“Bristol are the favourites for the game but it’s a great opportunity for us to step up and show what a good side we are.”

The signing of Baldwin is designed to create competition for places in the back row, but could also prove a shrewd move given the former England Counties captain’s leadership credentials.

Edwards said: “We identified back row as an area we needed to add to just to drive competition.

“We’ve got an outstanding back row, the fact that Chris Walker is an England Under-20s captain but still on the bench supports that belief.

“What we needed was competition and that ability to manage the season to back those players up and compete.

“Rob has got strong leadership credentials and has had leadership responsibility on his shoulders from a young age.

“We felt that that approach and leadership were just what we were looking for, and at 27 he brings maturity.

“He’s a robust, physical player which will suit the Championship. He wants to grab the opportunity, probably at a stage when he thought the chance might have passed him by.

“I think we’re getting him at his peak. We think he can improve, working on a daily basis in the professional environment.

“We believe there’s still a lot of work we can do with him.”

Baldwin’s arrival further underlines Leeds’s attempt to strengthen their position as Yorkshire’s premier club.

Chief executive Gary Hetherington and executive chairman Sir Ian McGeechan are keen to bolster the club’s ties with the community to make them a stronger unit if they can ever regain their place in the Premiership.

Edwards said: “We’re about providing the best players in Yorkshire with an opportunity in a fully professional environment, that has an infrastructure and a thought process about being a Premiership side.

“We want our players to aspire to that and we want young players in the county to aspire to play for us in the Premiership.

“Irrelevant of age, if they are the best players then we want to provide that opportunity.”

Hooker Scott Freer has returned to the club after failing to land a contract at Northampton Saints.

Joe Graham continues at hooker for the visit of Bristol. Stevie McColl returns at full-back. Ben Harris and Matt Smith are in line to debut off the bench.

nick.westby@ypn.co.uk