Leeds Carnegie 19 London Scottish 17: Lacklustre Leeds left in debt to Bell as he snatches late victory

George Ford is one of the brightest prospects in world rugby but even he could not illuminate Leeds Carnegie at a gloomy Headingley yesterday.

Leeds were sluggish and unable to play with any fluidity on a boggy pitch against plucky relegation candidates London Scottish.

And they were only spared a humbling defeat at the very climax when Tommy Bell won the points with a touchline penalty.

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Bell scored all of Leeds’s points but it was George Ford who drew most attention.

The 18-year-old Leicester Tigers player is the International Rugby Board’s junior player of the year after helping England Under-20s to a Six Nations grand slam and the final of the Junior World Cup.

He is also the youngest player to make a professional debut, having represented Leicester against Leeds in the LV= Cup in November 2009, at the age of 16 years and 237 days.

A former Leeds academy prospect and Bradford Bulls youngster, the son of former England defence guru and part-time Carnegie coach Mike Ford is on loan at Leeds until the end of the month.

Leeds will be hoping to get George Ford – who attended Rishworth School, Halifax – back on the completion of the Under-20s Six Nations tournament towards the end of March, which would coincide nicely with the club’s push for promotion back to the Premiership.

But on the evidence of this lacklustre performance they need to up their ideas if they want to be challenging come the end of May, with or without a young man who is set to shine for his country in years to come.

Leeds are still to cut loose in the second tier and remain reliant on their stamina, which has seen them snatch victory from the jaws of defeat four times now.

There is certainly no shortage of talent; six of Diccon Edwards’s matchday squad yesterday are on short-term loan deals from top-flight clubs, emphasising the pull the Yorkshire club still retain.

They are all young prospects who add a fresh exuberance to Edwards’s squad, but there remains a lack of experience where it matters most, and particularly a cutting edge.

Leeds do not score enough tries – or create enough chances for that matter.

George Ford – the final loanee of the sextet – could change that on more favourable playing surfaces as the season’s denoument unravels come the Spring.

Although predominantly a fly-half, he debuted yesterday at inside centre for Leeds with Carnegie’s first choice No 10 and George’s 21-year-old brother Joe occupying the pivotal position.

The siblings were immediately in sync, driving Leeds forward with their quick thinking.

They kept Scottish guessing by switching positions at first receiver as and when, and their kicking games were excellent throughout.

As was Bell’s, who has been one of the stars of Leeds’s season.

Despite this, Leeds were unable to play with their customary expansion on the muddy pitch, and they were sucked into mistakes early on which presented Scottish fly-half Dan Mugford with two penalties on which he capitalised.

Bell halved the deficit from close range before a mass brawl resulted a in a yellow card for Scottish flanker Josh Brown.

Bell missed the resulting penalty and the numbers were evened up moments later when Tom Denton was sin-binned after illegally stopping a Scottish maul that threatened a try.

Mugford’s penalty miss reprieved Leeds only briefly as the Scottish fly-half then blocked Joe Ford’s kick 30 metres from goal and raced into the goal area to touch down despite the despairing efforts of George Ford.

Leeds needed a spark and their lively scrum-half Cliff provided it.

Quick at the breakdown, the No 9 got the hosts moving from right to left after an attacking lineout, and after good hands by Joe Ford and a darting run by Iain Thornley, Bell scored in the corner. He converted to cut the deficit to one point.

Bell then kicked Leeds in front for the first time after former Rotherham Titan Adam Kleeberger was penalised for offside.

Ryan Burrows struck at the heart of Scottish with a typically bulldozing run, before Scottish forward Anthony Andrews was stretchered from the pitch after a serious leg injury.

Bell and Mugford exchanged penalties in the dying embers before the former snatched the points for Leeds when he boldly stepped up to kick the winning goal having just missed from similar range moments earlier.

“We shouldn’t have been in that position in the first place,” reflected Edwards. “At times we showed what we are capable of but we are making too many basic, unforced errors in the middle third.

“While we’re showing ambition to play, we’ve got to find a balance between ambition and execution so that we put pressure on other teams rather than inducing it.

“We kicked more ball away too much. That’s not how I want us to play and that’s not going to win us the play-offs.”

On George Ford’s performance, Edwards added: “He showed us glimpses of what he is about as an attacking threat and as he gets accustomed to us, and us to him, that will only get better.”

Leeds Carnegie: Bell, Stephenson, Thornley, G Ford, Lucock, J Ford (Davies 70), Cliff (Shaw 70); MacDonald (Lockwood 75), Nilsen, Palma-Newport, Denton, Hohneck, Burrows, Walker (Beck 78), Rowan. Unused replacements: Freer, Mustafa, D Barrow.

London Scottish: Peel, Gosio, MacDougall (Robertson 40), Hayter, Westren, Mugford, Amor; Kent (Mackenzie 75), Standfield, Liffchak, Karonias, Brown, Kleeberger, Andrews (Lonergan 60), Lipp. Unused replacements: Grimstone, McGrath, Heeks, Brown.

Referee: M Tutty (RFU).