After two months of the Championship season, Leeds Carnegie have finally clawed their way into the all important top eight but on three occasions they nearly threw away a win over Plymouth Albion at Headingley Carnegie despite dominating for large periods.
Head coach Diccon Edwards admitted afterwards that his side were giving him a few more grey hairs as, for the their third week running, they were grateful to late penalties from full-back Tommy Bell to seal the win.
Carnegie were good value for their 12-0 lead in the first half thanks to tries from Michael Stephenson and Iain Thornley, but they then gifted a try to Plymouth hooker Gareth Evans from the restart and incredibly found themselves trailing 13-12 at the break after conceding a well worked try to James Love, who also added a penalty.
The second half was a similar story with Plymouth twice taking the lead after Leeds had looked to have taken control through a try from hooker Phil Nilsen.
Speaking after the game, Edwards said, “I thought we were excellent in lots of areas today but Plymouth lived off our mistakes and they were very good at it.
“However, the spirit was good from our guys and they responded well each time to the set backs to come again.
“There are still things for us to work on and we will have to step up a level next week when we go to Bedford.”
Edwards praised man of the match Chris Walker who produced a fine display in the back row.
“I thought the leadership Chris showed today was a real marker for us,” added Edwards.
“He and Jacob Rowan in the back row were outstanding.
“We talked in the week about the suggestion within the league that our forwards are soft and teams can take us on there and we challenged the players to send out a message about that.
“I thought we did that very well today.”
Leeds should have taken all five points in truth though by scoring a fourth try.
They dominated for long periods in both halves and seemed to open up the opposition at will but could not find the knock-out punch.
Stephenson, on his return from illness, added experience and guile to the backline and he took his first try well after the forwards turned over possession at the scrum. Stephenson then set up the second try with a fine counter-attack before combing with Stevie McColl to put Thornley over.
Thornley, who like Bell is on a season-long loan from the Premiership’s Sale Sharks, will be having nightmares about the one that got away however.
The centre took a pass from Mike MacDonald on the Plymouth line but desperately tried to ground the ball as the last defender flipped him judo-style over the line. That was the best chance for the bonus point and Leeds were happy to hand the ball to Bell to kick two late penalties to seal the win after that.
Leeds Carnegie: Bell, Stephenson, Thornley, Barker, McColl, Ford, Hampson (Shaw, 53), MacDonald (Denman, 69), Nilsen (Freer, 77), Young (Swainston, 57), Hohneck (Denton, 50), D Barrow, Hemingway (Beck, 62), Walker, Rowan. Unused replacement: Blackett
Plymouth Albion: Love, Johns, Armitage, Fisilau, McGrath (Lewis, 69), Bailey, Cushion, Dugard (Morton, 65), Evans, Hopkins, Collier (Grace, 78), Hotson, Hocking, Sprangle (Lockley, 45), Tyas. Unused replacements: Farnham, Rowley, McGregor.
Referee: D Gamage.