JONAH HOLMES returned from London Wasps to produce an eye-catching two-try performance last night that left Leeds Carnegie just one step away from a maiden British & Irish Cup final.
The young winger, who has now scored 12 tries in 18 games while on loan at Headingley, showed real finishing prowess once more to see off the challenge of Plymouth Albion in this last-eight meeting.
Holmes had been recalled by his Premiership club last weekend and, typically given his rich form, crossed in their defeat against leaders Saracens.
Leeds were grateful of the 22-year-old’s obvious talent here as his classy second try just after half-time helped end the visitors’ hopes.
The West Yorkshire club will head to Bristol in the B&I Cup semi-finals – perhaps as a prelude for what is to come in the Championshp play-offs – after the league leaders defeated Rotherham Titans 39-24 last night.
Much-changed Leeds could not have got off to a much better start than seeing Holmes cross after just 72 seconds. He finished sharply after hooker Joe Graham – captain for the evening and in towering form himself – and David Sisi made the initial inroads.
They were over again soon after, winger David Doherty celebrating the signing of his new two-year deal by sneaking through following terrific work from Harry Casson, the lock who off-loaded from his knees while almost scrambling to the line.
Alex Lozowski could not convert either, however, so Plymouth were immediately in touching distance when Doherty showed some defensive frailty.
He missed Tom Bowen as the winger raced onto Declan Cusack’s long pass, just holding off Jonny Bentley’s tackle to cross.
Cusack could not improve either but the Devon side quickly showed their strike was no fluke.
Paul Rowley pirouetted out of a ruck to break clear but Bowen wasted the glorious chance by failing to take the pass.
Leeds’s own No 9 Craig Hampson, showing great awareness, nearly created a third try for Leeds but his deep kick to the right corner from halfway just eluded Holmes.
They were bizarrely denied another try-scoring opportunity when rampaging Sisi – a force throughout at blindside – was hauled back for an apparent forward pass from Casson which left even Plymouth bewildered.
Cruelly, from the resulting scrum, Rowley peeled off the back to dab a scruffy kick through which ricocheted into the arms of Chris Elder, the rangy full-back showing real quality to finish from 40m out in the 26th minute.
Cusack kicked the conversion and, moments later, as Leeds got scruffier, Bowen eluded some more hesitant defence from Oli Goss to escape down the right.
Elder supported inside to stride clear once more and, though he was eventually hauled down just short, Richard Beck ruined Plymouth’s possession illegally and was yellow-carded for the professional foul.
Cusack kicked the penalty and another soon after to put them 15-10 ahead, but Leeds did not leak any further points during the second-row’s enforced absence.
On the contrary, they actually emerged in the black when, after referee Lloyd Linton finally spotted Plymouth hooker Sam Matavesi delivering one of his wonky line-out throws, they garnered position for Lozowski to work a sharp one-two with Doherty to raid down the left and score.
The full-back converted his own try and added a penalty in first half stoppage-time after Cusack wildly caught opposite number Bentley with a high shot which, resulted in the Plymouth fly-half being yellow-carded.
That meant Leeds – with 19-year-old prop Paul Hill holding his own on debut – headed into the break 20-18 in front, a lead Holmes quickly extended following the restart when he latched onto Bentley’s clever short side grubber and showed elusive footwork, strength and pace.
Lozowski improved and the visitors, who struggled to contain Leeds’s increasingly dominant back-row, were soon bedraggled once more. Replacement Jack Arnott had to come to their rescue to deny Doherty a second after the winger produced a scintillating 80m run.
Plymouth, splintering constantly in midfield, were grateful of another Cusack penalty on the hour but there was no stopping Goss when Christian Georgiou became the latest Leeds player to make a clean break. Lozowski made no mistake with the kick and Plymouth’s woes continued as Davy McGregor was stretchered off towards the end before, in added time, James Shanahan got yellow-carded for petulantly booting the ball away in disgust at a decision.
From there, his side conceded a penalty try for dropping a scrum, Lozowski finishing off.
Leeds Carnegie: Lozowski; Holmes, Goss (Hughes 69), Vickerman (Georgiou 40), D Doherty; Bentley, Hampson; Beech (Imiolek 58), Graham (Baines 71), Hill (Currie 55), Casson (Myerscough 50), Beck, Sisi (Doyle 55), Walker, Williams.
Plymouth Albion: Elder; Bowen, Woods, Howley-Berridge (Shanahan 72), Davies (Arnott 45); Cusack, Rowley (Cushion 60); Harrison (Morton 50), Matavesi, Fairbrother (Shields 50), Beukeboom, Ascroft-Leigh (Tovey 60), Stephen, Grace (McGregor 60), Oakley.
Referee: Lloyd Linton