THE MAN behind the most successful period in Yorkshire Carnegie’s history has made a shock return in a desperate bid to revive the club’s fortunes.
Phil Davies, who led the then-named Leeds Tykes into the Premiership and Heineken Cup as well as winning the Powergen Cup in 2005, is back at Emerald Headingley as director of rugby.
Fourteen years after departing, the popular Welshman certainly faces a far sterner test in his second stint; saving his beloved club from relegation into the sport’s third tier.
Carnegie – who are now part-time after entering a CVA in the summer following last year’s major financial problems – sit bottom of the Championship after losing all 13 games in all competitions so far this season.
Former England scrum-half Martyn Wood had been named director of rugby on a one-year deal in July and tasked with swiftly assembling an entire new squad on a minimal budget.
Life has understandably been tough against largely full-time opposition but sources say Wood is said to have still been surprised and “gutted to be sacked” following Monday’s decision to remove him from his post.
When a friend or family member is in need, your natural reaction is to offer any help you can and the club has always felt like family to me.Phil Davies
Carnegie, who are still only seven points behind Bedford Blues and have Joe Ford remaining as player-coach, said they needed an immediate change to give them the best chance of survival.
They see Davies, who recently coached Namibia against New Zealand and South Africa in the World Cup, as the person to kick-start their campaign.
“I am honoured to be returning to the club,” said the 56-year-old, who led Tykes from 1996 to 2006 before returning to Wales with the Blues and Scarlets ahead of a spell at Worcester.
“When a friend or family member is in need, your natural reaction is to offer any help you can and the club has always felt like family to me.
“After the World Cup with Namibia, I had decided to take a break from coaching but this is an opportunity too important to turn down.
“First and foremost, I want to work with the current coaching and playing staff to move things forward and fight to keep our place in the Championship.
“We will look to strengthen the squad in the short-term, if possible, but looking longer term, we want to create a strategic plan for rugby union in Leeds in order to provide a sustainable future for the sport at an elite level in the city.”
That last comment is telling; Sir Ian McGeechan instigated a controversial name change from Leeds Carnegie to Yorkshire Carnegie in 2014, a decision that both upset many and clearly did not lead to any long-term good for the troubled club.
It seems Davies – who will also join the board of directors as well as running the rugby operation – wants to return to the club’s Leeds roots and it would be no surprise if a name change eventually followed if they can survive the threat of demotion.
Carnegie managing director Chris Gibson said: “We are delighted to be able to bring Phil Davies back ‘home’.
“His decade at the club was a very special time for everyone connected to the club.
“The fact that he is returning so he can try and make a difference, speaks volumes for the affection he holds the club in.
“I would like to thank the board of Yorkshire Tykes Limited and shareholders for their support to make this happen, especially our partners at Northern Energy.
“We have 15 games left this season and all our energies will be focused on trying to finish the season as strongly as possible.”
Carnegie – and Davies – resume at Cornish Pirates on Sunday week.