Patience required after poor start for Carnegie

Yorkshire Carnegie lost out to Doncaster Knights last month.
Yorkshire Carnegie lost out to Doncaster Knights last month.
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It has been a rather chastening opening to the season for the new-look Yorkshire Carnegie.

Three defeats out of five in the Greene King IPA Championship has left them in the bottom four of the division, not the top four where they feel, and history suggests, they belong.

To make matters worse, they have lost twice to their county rivals, the two teams whose nose was most bent out of joint by the Headingley club’s decision to change their name from Leeds to Yorkshire in the summer.

Doncaster, the Championship’s surprise package so far, defeated them at Headingley in the league in one of the more eye-catching results of the embryonic season.

And then last Friday night, Rotherham Titans blew off their own cobwebs after a humbling defeat at the hands of Worcester the previous week, to defeat Carnegie in the opening match of the British and Irish Cup campaign.

Rotherham are taking that competition more seriously than Yorkshire, who are fielding a more academy-based side.

But, nevertheless, defeat to an irked rival was another blow to morale for long-standing supporters of Carnegie.

However, there might be some light approaching at the end of the tunnel.

Gary Mercer, the head coach appointed just days before the season started, believes he is now up to speed with the demands of the Championship and his role, and is confident that once the indiscipline is knocked out of his team, their fortunes will turn.

So certain is he of that conviction that he is not afraid to ramp up the pressure on himself by labelling the next block of three Championship fixtures that begins against Rotherham on November 7 as “must-win” games.

And off the field, the club’s decision-makers say they are close to announcing progress on the search for fresh investment, which was the cornerstone of their name-change in the summer.

Taking the playing side first, Mercer admits his first job as a head coach has been challenging, but that his players are starting to benefit from an extended block of training.

“They’re a good set of lads but it’s a new coach coming in and I’ve got different values and different cultures and the boys are getting used to me,” he admitted.

“There was always going to be a period of playing catch-up. My task is about getting more clarity to the players about what I want from them.

“The boys are starting to warm to me and the training sessions have been very enthusiastic.

“They’re disappointed with the start we’ve made but they remain positive.

“To explain the games we have lost we have to look at ourselves.

“It wasn’t through opponents winning those matches, it’s about us losing them.

“Our indiscipline has been a massive concern for us. Also, we haven’t capitalised on situations.

“We could have been sitting here with five wins, instead it’s two wins and three losses.”

Mercer will continue to field younger teams in the two remaining B&I Cup games against Ulster Ravens on Saturday and Aberavon the following week because he wants players like Paul Hill and Jack Walker to force their way into his first-team plans for the league.

Being in a position of clarity and confidence for the visit of Rotherham on November 7 is the aim for the 49-year-old former New Zealand rugby league international.

“It’s important to win games, I understand that,” he said.

“But for me the most important thing with the British and Irish Cup is getting an eye on the younger players.

“Because after that, Rotherham, Bedford and then Plymouth are must-win games.

“We have got to get results in those games.

“The big one for us is that Rotherham game.”

The emphasis Yorkshire are placing on that fixture will be matched by the men from Clifton Lane, who privately are still smarting over their long-time rivals’ perceived arrogance in taking the Yorkshire name.

Mis-interpreted or not, more fuel is added to the fire when Mercer says: “What’s important is that we play for the badge and that badge is Yorkshire Carnegie.

“We know we haven’t been at our best. I’m a new coach, I’ve got new ideas but I have to be very careful.

“As a team we have spoken about accountability. They have got to up the ante and the competition for places has got to increase.

“The big thing now for us over the coming weeks is generating competition in the squad for the game with Rotherham.”

Off the field, there are suggestions from within the club that brighter news is on the horizon about Carnegie’s financial future.

When they made the name change official back in July, Gary Hetherington and Sir Ian McGeechan set a time-frame of three months after which they would be in a position to make an announcement on the progress made in their search for fresh investment.

Carnegie want between £2m and £4m to make their integrated, county-wide system become a reality.

Hetherington said this week: “There will be an announcement in line with the original timescale at the end of October.

“We are optimistic it is going to be a positive statement.”

A new board of shareholders will be created when the fresh investment is confirmed.

Until then Yorkshire Carnegie remain in a state of flux, on and off the field.