FOUR WEEKS ago Yorkshire Carnegie looked like a team who had forgotten how to win. Now they are a side confident they will not lose.
The Championship Cup began, at the start of November, with Carnegie stranded at the foot of the league table having won only one of their opening nine fixtures.
They are a different team now, both literally and figuratively. Carnegie have signed nine players in the past six weeks, with another three coming in on loan and their form has improved as a result.
Saturday’s 20-18 success at Castle Park was their third win from four matches in the cup competition and their second against Doncaster in eight days.
Having built a 30-point lead in the opening 50 minutes of the previous week’s ‘home’ victory at Hull Ionians, Carnegie did it differently in the rematch, hitting back from 10-0 down and 18-10 adrift at the interval.
Doncaster’s three tries in the first meeting came with Leeds below strength following a hat-trick of sin-binnings.
The return featured six yellow cards, five of them after the break and for a spell late on it was 12-man Doncaster against Yorkshire’s 13.
“That made it difficult for both teams,” reflected Yorkshire’s director of rugby Chris Stirling.
“But it was nice to come to Castle Park and have a win, by all accounts Yorkshire Carnegie don’t do it too often.
“It is a tough place to come, so I am extremely happy.”
Given their position in the table, for Yorkshire the Championship Cup is all about building form going into the league campaign which resumes, away to Doncaster, on December 29.
“The bonus is we are sitting near the top of the cup table,” Stirling added. “We are moving okay at the moment. It bodes well for us.
“There’s a long way to go, but the exciting thing is the guys care and they are tight as a bunch.
“Yes, we’ve lost a lot of games leading into this, but if you walked into our camp you wouldn’t know it.”
It was a game Carnegie would probably have lost two months ago, having trailed after 23 minutes to a Will Owen try which Kurt Morath converted to add to his early penalty goal.
Dylan Donnellan touched down from a driving maul to get Carnegie back in it, Jacob Umaga converting and exchanging penalties with Morath before Knights scored on the stroke of half-time through Olly Stedman.
He marked his return to the club, from Ealing Trailfinders, by touching down after the hosts drove over from a lineout close to the line. That punished Faatiga Lemalu’s sin-binning for deliberate offside.
Umaga’s second penalty cut the gap and then Knights’ Josh Tyrell was yellow-carded for a similar offence to Lemalu with 13 minutes left. Seconds later Doncaster’s Curtis Wilson and opponent Jade Te Rure joined him after a minor skirmish, the penalty went to Carnegie and Donnellan scored an identical try to his opener, Umaga’s angled conversion winning the game for Carnegie.
Five minutes from the end rival front-rowers Sam Nixon and Robin Hislop were the latest players to be banished. Doncaster did have a chance to snatch a win after kicking to touch from a penalty deep into stoppage time, but the whistle went after Carnegie grabbed possession from the lineout.
Stirling reflected: “In the first half we felt we had contributed to their score building, with our discipline and giving them opportunities. We focused on a couple of things in the second half and I thought we were quite clinical in certain areas, but we lost our shape at the back end of it.”
Of the spate of yellow cards, Stirling insisted: “It wasn’t nasty.
“When you get two guys sin-binning and they are shaking hands and patting each other on the back as they are walking down the sideline you sometimes wonder what it’s all about, but obviously the ref’ had spoken to both teams about discipline and said he’s had enough and people are going to go. That’s the way it was and the game sort of lost shape.
“You only have 13 players on the field and you are trying to work out strategy – we went for a prop and pulled a winger off, they went short in the forwards and kept the full backline.
“It was the risk we took and we got away with it in the end.”
Knights’ head coach Glen Kenworthy admitted: “We are gutted.
“The bright thing about it is it’s not league points on offer, but we would have liked to get a psychological edge on them going into the crunch league game on the 29th.
“We didn’t do that and we’ve got to look at a few positions maybe and try and iron out a few things in the next two weeks.”
Doncaster Knights: Jarvis, Wilson, Creed, Owen, Lewis, Morath, Williams (Hislop 61), Hunter (Mayhew 61), Sproston (Quigley 56), Eames, Challinor (Ryan 73), Tyrell, Hills, Stedman.
Yorkshire Carnegie: Thoroughgood, Davey, Elder, Umaga, Brown, Te Rure, Wolstenholme (Buckle 70), Hill (Thomas 56), Donnellan (Bruzulier 70), Foster (Nixon 58), Britton (Myerscough 61) , Lemalu (Smith 56), Romaine, Bainbridge, Temm.
Referee: Dean Richards (RFU).