POLL: Time for Carnegie to start making their mark

Yorkshire Carnegie head coach Gary Mercer.
Yorkshire Carnegie head coach Gary Mercer.
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IF Stuart Lancaster thinks he has it rough, he should take a look at what is going on at his old club.

While Leeds Tykes’ former player, academy coach and director of rugby attempts to stem the rising tide of negative headlines surrounding his England team, his old club are encountering similar difficulties.

Granted, the two scenarios are not on the same scale.

At Twickenham tomorrow, ‘the hundreds before them, thousands around them and millions behind them’ as the RFU’s jingoistic publicity slogans preach, will be expecting a routine victory for England over Samoa.

The crowd at Headingley Carnegie tonight will be less vociferous, less passionate and considerable fewer in number, and given they have failed to win at home all season in the league, the new-look Yorkshire Carnegie will do well to attract 2,000 for the visit of Plymouth Albion.

But the respective visits of Samoa and Plymouth cannot have come at a more opportune time for both Lancaster and Gary Mercer, the fourth man since the current England coach to try and realise the potential the Headingley club believe they have.

England desperately need to deliver a win and a performance against the obdurate but limited Pacific Islanders to regain their steadily eroding credibility.

Carnegie’s need for a victory is equally pressing.

Their much-publicised name-change from Leeds to Yorkshire in the summer, for all its merits chronicled many a time in these pages, has done nothing but backfire so far.

Home defeats by Doncaster Knights and Rotherham Titans have merely heightened the animosity felt by those clubs and their fans at Carnegie’s summer rebrand, which smacked of a team professing to be the county’s No 1.

Right now, Yorkshire Carnegie are Yorkshire’s No 3, and the rest of the county are either revelling in it or washing their hands of it.

Their ambitions for the new Broad Acres-wide enterprise are noble. They have the infrastructure, the history and the RFU academy to support their claims to be a sustainable Premiership club.

But in these early days of the venture, when the tangible signs of progress are minimal, it is hard to look upon the rebrand as a positive.

Satellite programmes are being set up across the White Rose county, but it could be years before the fruits of that labour is seen in the first team.

The takeover by the local investors Carnegie hoped to attract in the summer has been delayed.

The initial deadline for investment to the tune of £2m-£4m that Gary Hetherington and Sir Ian McGeechan set out to entice was the end of October.

Two weeks ago, the club announced that the timeframe had moved on to December 31. The positive spin is that discussions with interested parties are at a delicate stage and should not be rushed.

Behind the scenes the club have not helped matters. This week they were docked a point in the British and Irish Cup for fielding an ineligible player, Romanian winger Stephen Hihetah.

It was an administrational oversight by Carnegie in a competition they have never treated with the highest of regards but it was an embarrassing episode.

On the pitch, at least, they should get back to winning ways tonight. Plymouth Albion have garnered just two losing bonus points in their seven defeats so far, and have not won a game since March.

Carnegie have lost five of their opening seven games in the Championship and Mercer has yet to impose himself on their playing style. After coming in only six days before the start of the season, what chance did he have?

It took Carnegie nine weeks to appoint James Lowes’s successor, and their dithering in the summer has had a knock-on effect on the start the team has made.

In the absence of a head coach, experienced players had to stand up in the summer to ensure pre-season was not lost.

Their voices are still being heard now. Two weeks ago, captain Ryan Burrows told The Yorkshire Post that an inquest into their opening block of Championship fixtures, which yielded just two wins from five, was very much a player-led discussion.

Subsequently, against Rotherham two days later, they looked a team torn between the attacking principles that have served them so well in recent seasons, and Mercer’s desire to make them defensively tighter, which in the long run should serve them well.

A further defeat at Bedford last Friday night provided another disappointment for Yorkshire.

Tonight’s fixture is Carnegie’s last in the Championship until December 20. It is a must-win fixture for so many reasons.

Just as there is time for Lancaster to turn around England, so there is time for Carnegie to transform their fortunes.

But how they could do with a positive headline, and the sooner the better.