Stephenson and MacDonald return to beef up ailing Carnegie

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Struggling Leeds Carnegie have received a timely boost with the return of two of their most experienced campaigners.

Prop Mike MacDonald has returned from World Cup duty with the United States in New Zealand and full-back Michael Stephenson has come back earlier than expected from the injury he sustained in the team’s sole win of the season over Bristol three weeks ago.

Both players have been parachuted into the matchday 22 for the trip to London Scottish, with Stephenson in on the wing and MacDonald taking his place on the bench.

Head coach Diccon Edwards said: “It’s a real plus for us because Michael showed great form in the win over Bristol and is one of our experienced players.”

Leeds sit second bottom of the Championship table, but the next three games against Scottish today, followed by home fixtures with Moseley and Plymouth Albion will give a clearer indication of whether they have it within themselves to climb into the top eight.

Edwards said: “We need to be more physical at times, with more intent. We have spoken about being more positive when we are in possession rather than soaking up pressure and waiting for opportunities and we have worked on that this week in training.

“One of the main frustrations out of last week (defeat to Doncaster) was the fact that we played some of our best rugby of the season plus we were aggressive on defence but we need to string that together into a complete performance now.”

The only team worse off than Leeds is pointless Esher, who head to Clifton Lane today to face Rotherham Titans.

Andre Bester’s men have beaten both Leeds and Bedford on the tops of Rotherham this season, but after making five changes including the return of captain Sam Dickinson, he is taking nothing for granted.

“I’m not reading anything into Esher’s results so far, I’ve said it before that on any given day any team can beat any team in this league this year,” said Bester.

“We are rotating our team again this week and it’s no reflection on whoever our opposition is. The important thing for us is to keep the players fresh and motivation levels very high.

“We have a close squad and they are all very competitive and there’s not a lot to choose between the players.”

Doncaster Knights look to extend their three-match unbeaten run at home to Plymouth.

Head coach Brett Davey said: “We owe the supporters another big performance, they got us out of trouble against Scottish (last home game) and we played well when the crowd got involved, they created an atmosphere.

“Plymouth are a decent side who have recruited smartly; they’ve got a good pack of forwards and some experienced backs too. They’ll be a tough nut to crack, and we need to do the simple things well and play our own game.”

Tom Luke moves to centre to cover for the injured Oli Goss, with Mike Whitehead in at fly-half.