AFTER another comfortable win last night, Leeds Carnegie now know for certain the play-offs route they must navigate in order to secure their endgame of promotion.
James Lowes’s side confirmed at least third spot following this six-try success against Cornish Pirates in their final regular fixture of the Championship campaign.
It means they will host London Welsh, who will replace Leeds in second if they avoid a shock defeat at home to lowly Nottingham this afternoon, in the play-offs semi-final first leg at Headingley Carnegie on Sunday May 11 (kick-off 1pm) before travelling for the return at Oxford’s Kassam Stadium on Sunday May 18 (kick-off 12.45pm).
Yorkshire rivals Rotherham Titans, meanwhile, who complete at Ealing Trailfinders today already secure in fourth, are expected to visit Bristol in their play-offs semi-final first leg on Saturday May 10 (2.45pm) before hosting at Abbeydale Stadium in Sheffield (6.05pm) a week later.
There was enough evidence from Leeds last night to suggest they are priming themselves nicely for those challenges that lie ahead.
However, clearly, they will need to raise their conviction further still for the sterner test of Welsh who they have fallen against twice this season, admittedly by narrow margins on both occasions.
Lowes, though, has plenty of options at his disposal and it will be intriguing to see who he selects for their next fixture – the British & Irish Cup semi-final at Bristol a week tomorrow – before the play-offs begin.
David Sisi, the on-loan Bath flanker, was in inspirational mood with a series of fulsome charges that left Cornish aching while, at fly-half, Jonny Bentley proved similarly pivotal with some telling plays.
Leeds led only 12-3 at the break, their two first-half tries scored when Cornish were down to 14 men.
It was the least they warranted for their domination and there was frustration there had not been more points garnered.
Angus Sinclair was yellow carded in the 13th minute after the fly-half was blatantly offside when Leeds took a quick penalty tap near the visitors’ line.
Initially, after what felt like an eternity setting and re-setting scrums in the Cornish 22, it seemed like the hosts would waste the opportunity.
Scrum-half James Doherty, especially, was left red-faced after the ball fired out of the back of one scrum while he was looking at the referee for a penalty.
Opposite number Tom Kessell seized on the momentary lapse of concentration by the former Pirates man and hacked on 60m upfield to relieve all the pressure.
It mattered little, however. Leeds regained possession and – after all that endeavour in the set-piece – simply looked to full-back Stevie McColl for a bit of magic.
Bentley found him in centrefield with a lovely inside pass on halfway and the Scotland hopeful eased into open space, curving away at just the right time to leave the visitors’ last man – unfortunate No 8 Tom Duncan – with no chance preventing the 21st-minute try.
Bentley failed to convert but did so a minute before the interval when – with prop Ben Prescott now sin-binned – Ryan Burrows claimed a line-out for Sisi to drive over.
Leeds helped themselves to their third try when Jonah Holmes, inevitably, scored his customary try in the 55th minute after Bentley’s flat pass put lock Mike Myerscough plundering through a weak Cornish tackle attempt.
It was the on-loan Wasps winger’s 13th score of the season.
Immediately after, the home side secured the bonus point, too, courtesy of a brilliantly-crafted try from deep within their own 22.
Hooker Phil Nilsen handled three times, Sisi added some ballast, and there was some smart link work out wide before Rob Vickerman eventually sliced through for a classy score.
Alex Lozowski, just on for the impressive Bentley, converted the latter to make it 24-3 and it was, then, just a matter of how many points Leeds would clock up.
They left it late but added a further couple of tries, first through Chris Walker after the replacement openside followed up Lozowski’s clever grubber four minutes from the end and, then, Ben Hooper as the substitute prop celebrated his new one-year deal with a drive-over in injury-time.
Lozowski converted the latter and left Lowes – who handed scrum-half Matt Dudman his Championship debut late on – with plenty to contemplate.
Cornish had started brightly, Kyle Moyle kicking a fourth-minute penalty, and then Tom Hendrickson almost getting in at the corner after blindside Joel Conlon had splintered the Leeds defence all too easily with a 40m surge.
Holmes finally brought the rampaging forward down but the home side still needed Burrows to be alert to prevent centre Hendrickson finishing off.
After that, however, they offered little threat and it is Leeds whose season continues into next month.
Leeds Carnegie: McColl; Holmes, Vickerman, Burdon, Georgiou; Bentley (Lozowski 58), J Doherty (Dudman 69); Imiolek (Beech 65), Nilsen (Graham 65), Tussac (Hooper 55), Beck (Green 55), Myerscough, Sisi, Rowan (Walker 69), Burrows.
Cornish Pirates: Bodilly; Jones, Goss (Riley 47), Hendrickson, Moyle; Sinclair, Kessell (Holland 70); Davies, Carpenter (Channon 62), Prescott (Elloway 73), Patrick (Carrick Smith 45), Graulich, Conlon (Bolwell 45), Atkinson (Parker 65), Duncan.
Referee: Greg MacDonald (RFU).