ALTHOUGH promotion is the main ambition for Yorkshire Carnegie this season, should they want to, this fifth successive win also leaves them handily-placed for another tilt at a maiden British & Irish Cup glory.
Head coach Bryan Redpath was able to make a raft of changes to his usual side yesterday, seeing the likes of winger Oli Goss return from injury and others, such as impressive centre Tom Casson and hooker Joe Graham, make all too rare appearances.
It was probably due to so many of the squad having had limited game-time of late that Carnegie tired badly in the second period, seeing Munster A – 38-10 behind after 48 minutes – rally back to within nine points heading into the uncomfortable late stages.
Furthermore, it was because the spirited Irishmen secured an unlikely try bonus point that Redpath’s side cannot yet be confirmed as Pool Three victors.
However, they are safely in the last eight and it would take an unlikely chain of results in this weekend’s final round – Carnegie are five points clear of second-placed Munster A – to deny them top spot and a home quarter.
Stand-in captain Andy Saull was to the fore yesterday at Headingley – the pitch at original venue Huddersfield RUFC was frozen forcing a late switch – becoming the latest Carnegie openside to score a hat-trick of tries.
The former Saracens star achieved that feat in the first half alone, all from line-out drives, as helpless Munster A , like so many other teams this campaign, were left powerless in preventing the hosts’ surge forward.
He duly became the club’s third No 7 this term to enjoy such a treble, following on from Josh Bainbridge and Chris Walker, as their clear domination in this set-piece area was illustrated once more.
The majority of Carnegie’s tries this campaign have come this way although they showed they aren’t a one-trick pony with their two other scores in the first period.
Graham showed great awareness – and no little speed for a hooker – to go through a midfield ruck and spot acres of space in which to run and score freely from 35m out.
Centre Andy Forsyth then eased clear from a scrum on halfway before stylishly dummying to his winger and leaving the visitors’ full-back David Johnston turned inside out for a classy try.
When Saull added his fourth in the 48th minute, moments after prop Brendan Quinlan was penalised and sin-binned following yet another Munster A scrum hopelessly disintegrating, the home side should have utterly vanquished their vulnerable opponents.
However, they did not score again during that 10-minute period and, instead, bizarrely, it was the 14 men of Munster A who crossed twice themselves via lock Lee Nicholas and Johnston.
Both came courtesy of Duncan Williams, the clever scrum-half whose array of passes left Carnegie flummoxed close to their own line and who had also dummied over himself in the first half.
Johnny Holland, who had kicked a conversion and penalty early on, improved the first of those second-half tries to see Munster A trail just 38-22 going into the final quarter.
When back up to a full complement, Williams emerged again to fire out another pass for centre Cian Bohane to claim Munster A’s fourth try in the 72nd minute and leave shaky Carnegie – who had suddenly started missing touch with penalties, kicking out on the full and fumbling inexplicably – in increasing disarray.
Indeed, they needed replacement Pete Lucock’s injury-time try to finally settle nerves so many, including Joel Hodgson who kicked four conversions, will hope Redpath gives them another chance to shine in Saturday’s final group game at an Ospreys Premiership Select.
Yorkshire Carnegie: T Prell; O Goss, T Casson (T Casson 61), A Forsyth, D Doherty; J Hodgson, M Green; C Beech (Imiolek 72), J Graham, B Hooper, T Ryder (Schofield 68), M Smith, M Myerscough, A Saull (Bainbridge 61), J Williams. Substitutes unused: Nilsen, O’Donnell, Sinfield.
Munster A: D Johnston (N Hodson 76); S Fitzgerald, D Goggin (Sweetnam 54), C Bohane, G Van Den Heever; J Holland, D Williams (R Foley 79); B Quinlan, E Rossiter (S Fenton 79), P McCabe (C Oliver 61), L Nicholas (B Kilkenny 79), S McCarthy, J Coghlan, S Doyle (Scott 52), S Buckley.
Referee: Craig Evans (WRU).