Yorkshire Carnegie brought their improved British & Irish Cup form to the club’s league campaign, delivering a gritty victory over Jersey.
Coming from behind in each half, the men in white flew back from the Channel Islands with a first league win since September. Four hard-earned points propelled Carnegie above Jersey into sixth position in the Championship.
A sterling shift by the forwards, committed defence throughout and good game management from half-backs Chris Pilgrim and Harry Leonard were at the heart of the Carnegie win. Leonard also nailed his three shots at goal, in contrast to a man who previously wore the No 10 shirt at Headingley, Jersey’s Jonny Bentley, who landed just one of his four attempts.
Jersey began at a high tempo and the visitors were on the back foot, forced into the concession of a second-minute penalty in front of the posts, and then falling further behind when Bentley put winger Mark Foster over in the corner.
Carnegie began to gain a foothold in the game and won a series of penalties thanks to an assertive scrum platform and good work at the breakdown, where captain Ryan Burrows was outstanding.
Leonard’s penalty touch-finder brought an attacking lineout 15 metres from the try-line, and Jersey had no legal answer to the Carnegie rolling maul, referee Maxwell-Keys racing to the posts to signal a penalty try.
Behind by a point, Carnegie remained in the ascendancy but failed to take advantage of another promising lineout position when the ball was overthrown. Leonard stroked over a penalty just before half-time to put his side 10-8 in front.
The home side began the second half with three props, having lost starting hooker Martin Garcia-Veiga after five minutes and seen his replacement, Gareth Harris, go down just before half-time. Former Carnegie prop Sam Lockwood was combative throughout, but did not relish the lineout throwing duties that were thrust his way.
Seeking to recreate the fast pace of their opening to the first half, Jersey were able to regain the lead through a series of attacking bursts. Centre Drew Locke almost scored in the corner, denied by a magnificent covering tackle from Jonah Holmes, but soon afterwards fellow centre Lewis Robling crashed over.
Acting head coach Tommy McGee worked his replacements bench, introducing five new forwards to the fray in a 13-minute spell and eventually getting the breakthrough he was seeking.
After 66 minutes, Locke flew out in defence and his late hit on Jonah Holmes earned 10 minutes in the sin-bin. Carnegie sensed their chance. Leonard kicked the penalty to Jersey’s 22-metre line and the pack unleashed a marathon maul that ground its way left, right and slowly forwards before eventually being pulled down.
Leonard again kicked for touch from the penalty, and this time the Carnegie pack applied the finishing touch, with replacement Chris Walker claiming the try and Leonard adding a perfectly-judged conversion from the touchline.
Although their lead was a narrow one, the visitors were able to play out the final 10 minutes in relative comfort. Bentley had a chance to give his side an attacking platform but crucially missed touch from a penalty. Locke returned from the sin-bin but was soon replaced by a frustrated Lockwood after another illegal challenge, and Carnegie had wrapped up the Christmas present they wanted.
“We knew it would be tough over here, we’d seen the weather during the week and knew it would be a real battle, especially for the forwards,” said a delighted McGee afterwards. “We knew Jersey had been good enough to push Worcester very close and neutralising their lineout and maul was important.
“It’s vital to keep 15 men on the field in games like these – we’ve suffered from having players carded earlier in the season, and Jersey lost one of their danger men at a key time.
“We still need to improve and we want to do that, but I think the B&I Cup break came at a good time and four straight wins is a good record. It would be great to make it five to finish the year – I think we can give Worcester a real run for their money at Headingley next weekend.”
Jersey: Pointer, Foster, Locke, Robling, McCrea (Jones-Davies 58), Bentley, Glynn (Dudley 64); Lockwood, Garcia-Veiga (Harris 5, Lancuba 41), Williams, Campbell (Noone 71), Phillips (Markham 52), Rae, Hodson, Kaho. Unused replacement: Herriott.
Yorkshire Carnegie: Georgiou, Goss, Vickerman, Lucock, Holmes, Leonard, Pilgrim; Beech (Harris 57), Nilsen (Walker J 52), Hill (Imiolek 60), Smith, Casson (Walker C 57), Beck, Bainbridge (Williams 65), Burrows. Unused replacements: Dudman, Peters.
Referee: C Maxwell-Keys (RFU).