Carnegie take positives from home draw with bottom club

Of all the alarm bells that rang out across Headingley Carnegie on Friday night – the poor performance, the pitiful crowd – the one that chimed loudest was the desire from within to extract the positives.

Rob Vickerman

Gary Mercer, the head coach, described Yorkshire Carnegie’s 19-19 home draw with Plymouth Albion as “feeling like a win” and “something to build on”.

He did acknowledge that his team were guilty of “schoolboy errors”, “dumb rugby” and that they did not play in the right areas.

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But, in general, his mood was upbeat, despite the fact that Plymouth have never won at Headingley, had lost 17 straight games in all competitions dating back to March 8, and had 12 men standing in the ‘87th minute’ when Christian Georgiou burst over for the tying score.

One of his most senior figures in the dressing room, Rob Vickerman, echoed those sentiments with a sobering assessment.

“There’s always frustrations but realistically that was an improved performance, though it might not have looked it,” said the former England Sevens captain, who returned to the club he started at 12 months ago.

“It’s not a particularly acceptable result but that’s the reality of the situation. You’ve got to lead through losing and you saw at the end with the reaction to drawing with the bottom club, that’s the reality.

“We’ve got blokes that are never going to give up, and this can be the start point for moving forward. It’s a sad state of affairs to be celebrating a draw against the bottom club but that’s the reality of the situation.”

That reality is a club that is at its lowest ebb since before the mid to late 1990s when they were on the rise through the divisions towards the Premiership.

Booking a return to the top flight has never looked so far away, on and off the pitch, with Friday night’s game played out in front of a crowd of 1,265, the lowest regular-season attendance since 2001 when they were challenging for a first bite at the elite tier and just half of what it was against Rotherham two weeks earlier.

Vickerman said: “The crowd is a reflection of where we are. Fans come to watch a successful, winning team, and we put our hands up and say that’s not the case. That’s for us to address as players.

“We have to focus on the things we do well rather than the things we can improve on, of which there’s a few.

“We need to improve our defence, individually and collectively. We’re not quite as tight a unit as we need to be.

“We also need to get into situations where we can show what we can do when we attack because when we did that on Friday there were a lot of positives.

“It’s about enjoying our rugby. When you see guys not walking out with their chests puffed out and exuding confidence then that’s a factor we need to address.”

Asked if there was a disconnect between Mercer and the players, Vickerman added: “There’s not a disconnect, everyone’s in it together. There’s a lot of pressure on everyone.”