DAVID Doherty is urging Leeds Carnegie’s young hopefuls to replicate his own semi-final heroics from nearly a decade ago when they face Bristol.
The West Yorkshire club is just 80 minutes from the British & Irish Cup final in Dublin with holders Leinster A awaiting tomorrow’s victors.
With one eye on their forthcoming Championship play-off semi-finals, Leeds coach James Lowes has rested some key figures and given youth its chance in Bristol.
The team includes seven players who have graduated from the club’s academy structure including England Under-20 prop Paul Hill and his international colleague Jack Walker in the front-row.
But there is plenty experience in there, too, including Doherty, the 27-year-old winger who memorably played such a crucial role the last time Leeds reached a major final.
He was barely 18 and had played just a handful of senior games when he delivered a man-of-the-match display in the Powergen Cup semi-final win over London Irish in 2005.
Doherty scored one brilliant try with his searing pace and created another at Headingley on a memorable afternoon which led to their finest hour – actually lifting the trophy after beating huge favourites Bath at Twickenham.
After stints with Wasps and Sale Sharks among others, he is now in his second spell with the club and returns from a hand injury for tomorrow’s game at the Memorial Stadium.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Doherty recalled: “It wasn’t a bad day that (2005).
“After that Irish game I had to go to the World Cup in South Africa – if you can say it like that – with England Under-19s so I missed out on the actual final.
“Hopefully, we’ll do the same thing on Sunday and I’ll get to play in this one.
“Irish had quite a few England players that day and it was a big game for both of us.
“I was lucky to get a couple of opportunities and put them away, but as a team we really went out to play.
“We’re going to do exactly the same at Bristol in this semi; we’ll be going all out to attack and there’ll be no steady, kicking to the corners.
“We have got a few young kids in, but I would say to them just look at me in that semi-final back in 2005.
“I was only a young lad then but I was given a chance and threw myself into it.
“I think I went on the outside five or six times in that game and I’ll tell these here now to make sure they go out and try things themselves too.”
Leeds-born Doherty, who has scored 15 tries in 22 games this season, is delighted to return after missing the final two regular league fixtures against Rotherham Titans and Cornish Pirates.
“I’m really excited to be back out there,” he explained.
“I injured my hand in the league game against Plymouth, damaging the tendons in a finger, and it has been a bit of a nightmare.
“It effectively meant I didn’t have any grip at all and it’s just been a waiting game since to get it right.
“The physios have done some great work with me, though, and I’ve come back all right now.”
Tomorrow will be the fifth time this season Leeds have played Bristol – who finished first in the Championship – given they were drawn together in the same B&I Cup pool, too.
In a peculiarity of the competition, Lowes’s side came top of that qualifying stage yet must now venture away from Headingley tomorrow.
They lost 21-12 in the cup at the Memorial Stadium last October, but won 24-19 in the return meeting to take the pool by a solitary point while, in the Championship, Leeds memorably succeeded 28-22 in Bristol last December, only to lose out 33-27 at home in April.
Given they have avoided each other in the play-off semi-finals - third-placed Leeds face second-placed London Welsh, while the West Country side tackle Rotherham Titans – they could yet meet again in the Championship final too.
Bristol won the B&I Cup in 2011, beating Bedford 17-14, and, like Leinster, are in contention to become the first side to win the trophy twice.
They have made massive changes to their squad, only James Hall and Glen Townson remain from the starting side that defeated London Scottish in their final Championship fixture.
But Doherty said: “They have got 45 really good players in their squad so whoever plays I’m sure they’ll be keen to get to the final.
“It’s a great test for both sides, too, going into the play-offs.”