Yorkshire Carnegie 14 Bedford Blues 34 – Carnegie show appetite for Championship challenge

THE picture of Phil Davies’s Leeds Tykes side celebrating their 2005 Powergen Cup final success still proudly looms large in the Extentia Cafe Bar at Emerald Headingley.

The popular coach, who led the club to their finest hour, has just finished his latest assignment as Namibia chief.

It involved taking on the might of both New Zealand and South Africa at the World Cup in Japan. No easy task.

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You sense the current incarnation of his erstwhile club could face similar unenviable prospects themselves this term with a hastily-assembled squad, such little financial backing and switching to a part-time status against so many full-time operations.

LIGHT RELIEF: Tom Bitrim dives over for a Yorkshire Canegie try, but it was not enough to trouble Bedford Blues in their opening Championship game at Headingley yesterday. Picture: Steve Riding.

Indeed, Yorkshire Carnegie have been given little hope of anything after the destructive last six months or so, an entire squad and coaching staff dismantled amid the meltdown and forced into a CVA that left them on their knees.

However, there were enough signs in yesterday’s Championship opener against Bedford Blues to suggest relegation, which many predict is the only likely outcome of 2019-20, is not actually such a foregone conclusion.

Granted, Martyn Wood’s side were eventually well-beaten and the damage could have been much worse given only two of Bedford Blues’ six tries were converted.

Yet having been hammered in the scrum for much of the game, the celebrations shown late on when they actually won a penalty in that setpiece illustrated just how much spirit runs through this set of players and their obvious willingness and desire to make this work. Moreover, there is some clear progress; in their opening two Championship Cup games, Carnegie conceded an embarrassing 131 points and failed to even score a single point of their own.

There was a sparse crowd for Yorkshire Carnegie's Championship encounter with Bedford Blues on Sunday. Picture: Steve Riding.

They managed one try in last week’s 50-7 defeat at London Scottish but here they scored two and each was a beauty.

Full-back Tim Bitrim scored from a move instigated from inside his own 22, initially putting Tom Varndell clear down the left flank and then twice brilliantly exchanging passes with the former England winger to cross in the 24th minute.

Their second try was similarly well-created and came when they could easily have submitted trailing 34-7 shortly after the hour mark.

Ryan Shaw, the former Hull KR winger who had come on for his union debut, made a brilliant piercing run through the middle to set up position near halfway.

Yorkshire Carnegie's Tim Bitrim is stopped by Bedford's Will Carrick Smith and Matt Worley. Picture: Steve Riding.

Joe Carlisle, the former Wasps and Perpignan centre who will be so crucial to Carnegie’s cause, then cleverly unleashed Varndell and it was James Elliott who rounded it all off.

Another experienced head –fly-half Joe Ford who generally kicked well out of hand – converted both but the problem was his side simply did not have enough ball.

They were competitive enough and had some early success in the scrum, earning a couple of free-kicks, while they were also able to force a number of turnovers.

But, unfortunately, their line-out was a shambles, Carnegie undoing all their good work by losing five in a row during the first period in every possible way: overthrow, wonky, stolen, you name it they did it.

Yorkshire Carnegie's Ben Sowery tries to get a drive going against Bedford Blues. Picture: Steve Riding.

Still, despite such self-harm, they only trailed 17-7 at the interval, mainly because Bedford – who had scored via Pat Tapley, Matt Worley and Robbie Smith – were similarly sloppy with their handling, coughing up plenty of ball in the rain.

Carnegie needed to score first in the second period but were immediately under pressure again and tighthead Henry Paul crossed after Bedford rumbled over from a five metre line-out.

At various points, there was plenty of blow-ups between opposition forwards and Carnegie No 8 Guy Graham and Bedford blindside Oli Curry were yellow-carded following the fourth minor fracas of the afternoon in the 54th minute.

It did not unsettle the visitors, though, who saw Ryan Hutler scamper over for their fifth try soon after, Tapley finally adding his second conversion.

When Varndell dropped a high kick, Bedford proved clinical as they quickly found Rich Lane, the dashing full-back who cut inside and found his way to the line but it was the hosts who finished strongly.

Yorkshire Carnegie: Bitrim (Smith 61); Lawson (Shaw 50), Carlisle, Lancaster, Varndell; Ford, Elliott (Turner 71); Flynn (Reid 73), Sowery (Musseti 69), G Smith (Davidson 59), Brady, Humfrey, T Smith (Seabrook 61), Lavin (Bustin 50), Graham.

Bedford Blues: Lane; Tapley, Worley, Strachan, Hutler; Robling (Hirskyj-Douglas 61), Hart (Day 45); McCarthy (Wrafter 59), R Smith (Boye 77), Paul (Garside 44), Onojaife, Carrick-Smith, Curry, Atkinson, Worthington.

Referee: Hamish Smales (RFU)