Leeds Carnegie 9 Newcastle Falcons 13: Fearless display by Leeds sets blueprint for future

Physicality, endeavour and a no-fear mentality, all Leeds Carnegie lacked was the victory over undefeated Championship leaders Newcastle Falcons, but at least Diccon Edwards’s men well and truly rubberstamped their top-four credentials.

Ben Harris takes a big hit from Falcons Ryan Shortland and Mark Wilson

Leeds have been inconsistent throughout this campaign with their young team unable to string a run of form together, but this could well be the catalyst for a late-season surge.

Should they qualify for the play-offs, Leeds may well meet the Falcons again in a semi-final at Kingston Park.

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And after receiving a 53-10 drubbing in September, Edwards can now take solace in their resilient display against Newcastle yesterday.

“Individually and collectively we’ve stood up, and we’ve taken the game to Newcastle for the full 80 minutes,” the head coach said.

“Even to be talking about a game which we could have won shows how far we’ve come and the potential within this group.

“Props Ben Harris and Damien Tussac were absolutely magnificent in terms of their attitude. What a change of mentality for us that we’ve scrummed Newcastle for a penalty rather than just trying to get the ball out.

“We need to keep grounded as I know we will because we need to go to Doncaster next week. It would be a waste of the effort we’ve put in if we don’t go to Doncaster and back that up with a performance.

“We’ve challenged ourselves as a group to get in the top-four.

“We want to play Newcastle again and the only way we’re going to do that is to get in those play-offs.”

Otley was the venue for Leeds’s latest excursion away from Headingley Carnegie, a far cry from the last time these two northern brethren came head-to-head in Yorkshire.

That time, the Falcons secured a vital 22-5 victory in front of 5,110 supporters as both teams battled to avoid the drop from the Premiership. It certainly proved crucial as just points difference separated the teams at the end of the season.

But despite narrowly escaping the dreaded trapdoor under Alan Tait’s stewardship, the visitors eventually succumbed after years of struggle in 2012.

However, unlike the Yorkshiremen, the Tyneside-based outfit haven’t suffered the mass exodus of players and have strengthened their squad with the astute guidance of Dean Richards.

It was therefore no disgrace for the hosts to fall victim to the Championship’s dominant force, and for the most of the match they gave their best to unsettle Newcastle in rain-sodden conditions.

Not many sides have matched Richards’s men for physicality this season and, although the Falcons raced into an early 10-0 lead, Leeds neutralised their opponent’s forward power throughout.

Kiwi stand-off Jimmy Gopperth opened the scoring via a penalty before a knock-on in midfield allowed the league leaders to counter-attack.

Tom Catterick made a searing break and Ryan Shortland was on hand to go round the outside of Stevie McColl to touch down.

Their pivot did the rest from the tee and the task was now a difficult one for Edwards’s young charges.

But they went about their work with huge endeavour and no lack of skill. Although mistakes were still prevalent in tough conditions, Carnegie tested Newcastle’s defence in the opening period.

David Doherty was proving spritely down the left-wing while half-backs Craig Hampson – even if his passing at the base was somewhat erratic – and Joe Ford were marshalling their troops effectively.

And they deservedly reduced the arrears when a period of pressure forced the Falcons into conceding a penalty and Ford duly slotted the resulting opportunity.

The stand-off had another chance to reduce the deficit before the interval, but his effort drifted wide of the left-hand upright. It was the impetus Leeds needed to take the game further to the visitors as they dominated the first 20 minutes of the second half.

Fred Burdon made a scything break through the heart of the Newcastle defence and the forwards, the excellent Harris in particular, started to get more purchase on their carries.

Although they couldn’t quite get close enough to the try-line, Ford continued to eat into the lead with a second three-pointer to take the score to 10-6.

The respective stand-offs traded penalties but, although Leeds pressed for that elusive touchdown which would garner a famous win, they couldn’t quite break down a solid Falcons wall.

Leeds Carnegie: McColl; Georgiou, Goss, Burdon, Doherty; Ford, Hampson; Harris, Nilsen (Freer 60), Tussac (Currie 67); Green, Myerscough; Baldwin, Rowan (capt), Burrows (Moon 70). Unused replacements: Imiolek, Smith, Frost, Lucock.

Newcastle Falcons: Catterick; Higgins, Crockett, Helleur, Shortland; Gopperth, Lawson; Golding, Vickers (Thompson 62), Tomaszczyk (Hall 62); Hudson, Macleod; Wilson (Hogg 72), Welch (capt) Tu’ifua. Unused replacements: Goode, Fury, Hodgson, Hufanga.

Referee: D Gamage.