STEVIE MCCOLL crucially finished off a rare moment of magic as a relieved Yorkshire Carnegie rescued victory against Hartpury RFC.
James Lowes’s side were in danger of losing out to their 11th-placed opponents, the promoted Gloucestershire team who were fully deserving of a 16-13 lead heading into the final stages of a scrappy Championship contest.
Error-ridden Carnegie had struggled throughout to gain any cohesion but, fortunately, managed to click for McColl’s stunning try in the 71st minute.
The Scottish winger, who used to play for Gloucester, returned a kick from deep inside his own half, unleashed fellow wideman George Watkins down the middle and, after Chris Elder got close, followed up to complete the 90m raid.
Alex Davies converted but Carnegie – who remain in third spot – still had to defend hard as their rivals pushed close, replacement scrum-half Will Homer denying George Perkins just as he looked set to race in late on.
No 8 Richard Beck excelled for the home side, young hooker Harry Newborn claimed man-of-the-match and captain Richard Mayhew produced some thunderous defensive hits.
The win came at a cost, though, after lock Mike Myerscough and prop James Thraves both came off with ankle injuries before the half-hour mark.
Furthermore, flanker Josh Bainbridge – who came on for Myerscough – was in hospital last night having suffered a suspected fractured cheekbone, so it is perhaps fortunate Carnegie do not have a game next weekend.
On his side’s display, Lowes admitted: “We just make it hard for ourselves.
“We were really sloppy in that first half. We invited Hartpury into the game and there were some poorly-executed plays which led to the pressure for them to score their try.
“After that, though, I didn’t think they’d break us. We defended really well.
“We’re just doing too much of it. We need to attack a little bit more and it’s not happening for us at the moment. We won’t change our philosophies, though, as we did some good stuff against (London) Scottish recently and Jersey last week.”
Indeed, that quality McColl try illustrated just what Carnegie are capable of.
“It’s something we look at and I want the guys to run like that,” added Lowes, whose side are next in action at Cornish Pirates on February 11.
“We have dangerous players in the back three: Chris Elder, George Watkins – who went through well for that try – and Stevie McColl, who has a bit about him when he finds some space.
“I want them to feel comfortable running like that. They have it in them. They just need to do it a bit more. But, for whatever reason, it took us 71 minutes to get a run today. It just didn’t click for us and we looked a bit stodgy but it was good to grind out a win.”
Having drawn at Hartpury in September, they trailed 10-6 here at the break following a deeply frustrating first period.
Two Davies penalties early on had seemingly given them a platform on which to build.
However, they struggled to gain any momentum with a series of set-piece malfunctions allowing Hartpury to build their own pressure instead.
Carnegie subsequently spent most of the first period in their own half but they generally defended well and irritated their opponents enough to make sure the damage was not too great.
Lowes’ side did struggle in the scrum and they were certainly thankful Scotland international Kevin Bryce, the on-loan Edinburgh tighthead, was available to make his debut when Thraves departed.
That said, both sides hit problems in the line-out and, for a spell, each also squandered their own ball.
Casual Carnegie twice saw kicks charged down and few could argue when the visitors crossed for the game’s opening try.
They did so with alarming ease, however, after edging close, simply shifting the ball wide to the left where winger Tom Seabrook crossed untouched in the 29th minute.
James Williams improved and kicked also when Carnegie conceded a scrum penalty just before the break.
When Elder was deemed to have produced a tip-tackle at the start of the second half, the Hartpury fly-half extended their lead to 13-6.
Lowes’s side did quickly respond, finely getting their line-out drive sorted with Beck claiming the ball and 20-year-old Newborn touching down.
Earlier, they had twice ignored kickable penalties so it was reward for their positive attitude and Davies’s conversion levelled the game.
However, it was typical of Carnegie’s sloppy nature that they immediately fell behind again.
Watkins erred embarrassingly, penalised for crawling forward on the ground after claiming the restart, gifting Williams another easy three points.
But he would atone for that error with a fine assist in McColl’s match-winning score.
Yorkshire Carnegie: Elder; Watkins, Forsyth, Burdon, McColl; Lucock (Irvine 72), Davies (Homer 72); Thomas, Newborn, Thraves (Bryce 30), Whetton, Myerscough (Bainbridge 27-Smith 68), West, Mayhew, Beck.
Hartpury RFC: Wilcox; Perkins, Bedlow, Eves, Seabrook; Williams, Cochrane; Murphy, Tanner, Harden (Daniels 62), Edwards, Oakley (Quinn 72), Grieve, Langley, Dyer.
Referee: Hamish Smales (RFU).