Trip into unknown for Mercer as Yorkshire look to tighten defence

SET FOR DEBUT: Harry Leonard will make his first start for Yorkshire Carnegie after joining from Edinburgh in the summer.

SET FOR DEBUT: Harry Leonard will make his first start for Yorkshire Carnegie after joining from Edinburgh in the summer.

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IT is unusual for a head coach to admit his players are more knowledgeable than him but, in tonight’s instance, Yorkshire Carnegie’s Gary Mercer insists that is the case.

He takes his side to Moseley in the Championship. Or rather should that be the other way around?

Mercer has only been in charge at Headingley Carnegie a matter of four weeks and is still getting to grips with his new environment.

Having spent the last decade working north of the border, primarily with the Scottish RFU, he is the first to admit his knowledge of what their Birmingham hosts will offer is limited.

“I’ve been told it’s a bit of an uphill field but, as I’ve told the boys, I’ve not been there so it’s important they help me and we manage our game well,” said Mercer, who replaced Jimmy Lowes when the former Leeds Rhinos assistant returned to rugby league with Bradford Bulls.

“Moseley are a very dogged side from what I’ve heard and they look like that on tape, too.

“But what I’ve said is we have to get through those tough patches and make sure we make the right decisions – I was disappointed with how we did that against Bristol last week.

“I think we’re a good side. We have to become a great side within this league if we’re really serious about the top four.

“The players know more than me about what’s coming (at Moseley) but, even though it’s early season, it’s important we get some momentum.”

Yorkshire – in their first campaign since being rebranded from their Leeds guise – started off well with an impressive 29-18 win at Cornish Pirates but they were brought back down to earth with a 26-13 home defeat to Bristol, one of the competition’s favourites, on Sunday.

Mercer added: “Our strength has been the set-piece.

“That didn’t come into play against Bristol and we didn’t adapt quickly enough.

“Defensively we know there’s a lot of work to do and it is a massive focus for us.

“But I like to think the boys can go there Friday night and not concede a try.”

He says finding new energy is imperative and explained: “It has been touched on in meetings how important it is to start well.

“But when I say ‘energy’ what we’re finding at the moment is we’re playing on our toes with the ball in hand but when we’ve not got it, we’re then playing on our heels.

“That is something we have to change. There has to be a massive change in mindset from our attack game to defence.

“We have to start enjoying defending. We’re not doing that and it’s really important we do.

“If we can work on that part of our game, we know we’ve got our A game in attack. But it’s important now to get that defensive game in place as if we do we’ll get more consistency in performance and the results we want.

“With me not being in place earlier, we’re doing some catch-up, but the players have been responsive and I’m excited by what I’m seeing here.”

Moseley opened with a 22-22 home draw with Jersey before falling 23-7 at relegated Worcester.

Mercer has made five changes with fly-half Harry Leonard gaining his first start for the club since arriving from Edinburgh during the summer.

That allows Glyn Hughes to move to full-back and David McIlwaine reverts to the wing in place of Lewis Jones.

David Doherty is still sidelined by a knee injury suffered at Cornish.

In the front-row, Lee Imiolek, Phil Nilsen and Ben Hooper get the chance to start with Ben Harris and James Tideswell reverting to the bench and Joe Graham missing out, Ollie Hayes – the signing from Bristol – is set to debut as a replacement.

Second-row Nathan Hannay make his first start of the season, while James Fitzpatrick could debut off the bench and Harry Casson returns after missing the Bristol game with a head injury.

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