Phil Davies excited at launch of a new era for Leeds Tykes

SLOWLY, all things are attempting to get back to normality and that will be especially so for Leeds Tykes this afternoon.

Leader: Leeds Tykes lock Jake Brady will captain the side in today’s Ventur Cup tie against Leeds Beckett University. Picture: Steve Riding

They play their first game in 14 months today although, technically speaking, it is their first match in 14 years.

When coronavirus brought a halt to the 2019-20 season last March, it spelt the end of Yorkshire Carnegie’s time in the Championship as they were subsequently relegated.

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It also, essentially, spelt the end of that club with director of rugby Phil Davies pushing through his long-held desire to see them become known once more as Leeds Tykes.

Glory Days: Phil Davies with the Powergen Trophy Leeds Tykes won at Twickenham in 2005. Picture: Steve Riding

They initially lost that name in 2007, changing to Leeds Carnegie a year after the Welshman – who led them into the Premiership and Heineken Cup – had completed his first stint in charge.

Although they reverted to Leeds Tykes in September, they, of course, have still not played due to the pandemic wiping out the entire 2020-21 campaign.

Keen to see some action of some sort, they helped initiate the Ventur Cup which would hopefully see Yorkshire quartet Leeds, Huddersfield, Otley and Wharfedale compete in a round-robin tournament.

Late changes saw it become a three-club competition – with Leeds, Hull Ionians and Leeds Beckett University – which started last weekend with a game between the latter two.

However, Tykes host Leeds Beckett University at West Park Leeds today as Davies finally gets to see his squad in action, which must leave the former Wales forward incredibly excited?

“The players are more excited than I am as they can actually get out there,” he said.

“It has been good. The boys have been excellent. They have worked hard and had a lot of training sessions with Colin (Stephens) and the LBU boys over these last six weeks.

“It’s exciting. Obviously, we haven’t played a game yet.

“We’d just got to know each other over Zoom for 12 months but the last six weeks we’ve been averaging three training sessions per week and their commitment and desire to play for Leeds is fantastic.”

Davies is not expecting too much too soon from his young squad; that would be naive.

But the simple fact they are out on a rugby field playing again is the crucial matter even if it is under modified rules.

The experienced coach, who has led the likes of Scarlets and Cardiff in his homeland as well as Namibia in World Cups, explained: “We’ve concentrated on the culture.

“We’ve had a bit of a saying ‘behaviour before skill’. If we get the right behaviours – people turning up on time, working hard and together for each other – the skill will come to the top.

“We’ve focused on our defence, our turnover attack, a bit of line-out and some kicking.

“We haven’t touched on everything as we haven’t had time.

“With these adapted rules, there’s no scrums and mauls so we’ve tried to work on the things that are going to be relevant to this new style of rugby until we get back into the traditional style.”

For someone who earned 46 caps in the Welsh pack, how alien has it been formulating gameplans that do not involve scrums and mauls?

Davies insisted: “It’s been good. I used to like playing with the ball – I had a bit of skill about me!

“We’ve generally been trying to play fast, move the ball and make sure we have threats all over the field.

“In defence, we’ve been looking to make sure we make good tackles and set our point of reference early to get off the line to pressure the attack.

“It’s all been about speed and trying to be as accurate as possible. I’m sure Saturday there will be some head in the hands times and there will be some times of inspiration from both teams.

“It’s like going into the unknown but we like that.”

Hopefully, with government restrictions due to lift on Monday, Tykes may even see some fans again for their game at Hull Ionians next Saturday.

For now, though, Davies conceded: “It’s just been great to get a game to play and we’ll be able to get a benchmark of where we are for next season.

“We’ll hopefully play five games, then have a break and then start preparing for National One (which starts at home to Taunton on September 4)

“We’ll have had some rugby under our belts and that’s the most important thing. Otherwise we wouldn’t have played any rugby for about 18 months.

“We have a lot of young players with a lot of potential so it’ll be interesting to see how they come through.”

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