DOGGED London Welsh ruined Kevin Sinfield’s big night at Headingley as they managed to dig out a dour win over an under-performing Yorkshire Carnegie.
The former Leeds Rhinos captain made his first Championship start since switching codes last month and plenty of his old supporters – an estimated 500 – were on hand to back him as they made the most of a cut-price offer to see their hero in his new colours.
However they, and a season-best home crowd of 3,672 clearly swelled from the club’s previous highest of 2,373 versus Doncaster Knights, will have been left disappointed as the faltering high-fliers failed to garner a win that would have kept them in touch with leaders Bristol.
On a frustrating evening, Carnegie actually remained pointless until the 77th minute when Joel Hodgson, who ironically replaced Sinfield at fly-half not long before, finally broke Welsh’s stubborn resistance.
He converted, too, from the touchline to leave it at 10-7 and set up a frenetic finish, but all of the problems which had seen Bryan Redpath’s side stutter for much of this game then returned to haunt them.
Second-placed Carnegie secured a penalty in stoppage-time and kicked to the corner only to then lose the line-out, fumbling to concede a scrum and relieve all the pressure for opponents who arrived down in ninth and out of sorts since being relegated from the Premiership last term. It had been a common theme.
It is perhaps no surprise, however; it seems Carnegie always struggle to excite when they play big games here on a Friday night. Anyone remember Sale Sharks in 2010?
Sinfield, the former England captain, was steady enough in what was only his third appearance, the other two coming in the British & Irish Cup.
Danny McGuire and Adam Cuthbertson were among his former Rhinos team-mates on hand to offer support.
James Lowes, the Bradford Bulls coach and former Leeds and England assistant as well as ex-Carnegie chief, was also in attendance along with Barrie McDermott and new Rhinos signing Beau Falloon.
Amid a gloomy encounter, there were a couple of comical moments not least when, as Sinfield lined up his first kick of the night, the ball slipped off the tee just at the critical moment. With the one-minute rule, he then had to hurriedly prepare once more and, considering that, did well to see his 40m effort drop just short.
Then, as Welsh’s Chris Elder struck his third unsuccessful penalty of the game against a post to the backdrop of some crowd noise, the public announcer had to remind “new supporters” – Rhinos fans – that such antics are not the etiquette in union and all the crowd must remain quiet.
With Elder off-target and Sinfield also wayward, it looked like the first half might actually remain scoreless as each side struggled to create any momentum.
This was especially so when Carnegie ignored the easiest penalty kick of the evening on the half-hour to boldly kick to the corner – only to lose the line-out.
However, with a rare sequence of slick interplay, Welsh did manage a breakthrough, cutting open the hosts in the 36th minute for a lovely try as fly-half Joey Carlisle – a late amendment to the team-sheet in place of former England star Olly Barkley – produced a fine runaround with centre Thretton Palamo to send Elder hurtling through from 35m.
Carlisle converted and Carnegie could have no real issues going in 7-0 down given the visitors did have the slight edge.
Sinfield had made a promising start when his dummy and acceleration saw him half-break and find captain Chris Jones in support after Jonah Holmes, the Carnegie full-back, had initially surged up field.
Redpath’s side were not afraid to try to move the ball wide but there was little success and, as the half wore on, those careless errors crept in such as centre Andy Forsyth slicing one kick straight into touch when attacking options were available.
The scrum was similarly lacking in consistency, too many penalties were conceded and, therefore, Sinfield was given little to work with although the half-time arrival of the more direct Pete Lucock for Tom Casson at inside centre did see them perk up.
They went on to dominate territory without creating too many clear-cut opportunities in the second period.
For example, they turned the Welsh scrum to earn a penalty that Sinfield arrowed deep into the corner but, just as the home pack looked set to score from a lineout drive, they were pulled up for an accidental offside.
Lucock’s smart kick then saw Welsh full-back Seb Jewell desperately scramble back to deny Taylor Prell but again there was no finish as the hosts somehow managed to mess up the resulting five-metre scrum, the ball flying out of the back to see relieved Welsh hack 40m upfield.
Instead, with their first real decent possession of the second period, Carlisle grabbed a drop goal in the 68th minute and that, ultimately, proved the difference.
Yorkshire Carnegie: Holmes; Stegmann, Forsyth, Casson (Lucock 40), Prell; Sinfield (Hodgson 68), Dudman; Beech (Imiolek 71), J Walker (Nilsen 72), O’Donnell (Hooper 71), Myerscough, Jones (Smith 66), Beck, Bainbridge, Burrows.
London Welsh: Jewell; Elder, Reynolds, Palamo. Armitage; Carlisle, Lewis (Glynn 72); Marfo (Trevett 79), Morris, Cooper (Aholelei 67), Snyman (McNally 67), West, Pienaar, Liston, Murphy (Waters 53-55).
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth (RFU).