YORKSHIRE CARNEGIE overcame visitors Jersey Reds at Headingley last night to go top of the Championship and set up a huge clash with London Irish next week.
Both teams are unbeaten and Irish will regain pole position if they win at London Scottish tomorrow.
Carnegie will prepare for the Bonfire Night battle of the top two in confident mood, but they had to dig deep to hold off a determined challenge from the Channel Island visitors.
Last night extended the Leeds-based team’s 100 per cent record in the league to seven games and was their eighth from nine in all competitions.
Jersey had 16 players unavailable due to injury, eight of whom would have started if fit, but showed plenty of spirit, led twice and were in with a chance of victory until the final moments.
The visitors opened the scoring after only two minutes. Brendan Cope kicked to touch from a penalty, Jersey won the lineout and their forwards drove over for hooker Jack Macfarlane to touch down.
There was no conversion and Yorkshire were ahead within six minutes, after their own first penalty.
Pete Lucock and Alex Davies were involved in the build-up and after Ollie Stedman had almost forced his way over Davies, Joe Ford, Lucock and Seb Stegmann moved the ball left and centre Andy Forsyth crossed unopposed.
Ford landed a towering touchline conversion, but again the advantage was short-lived, Cope booting Jersey ahead with their third penalty in quick succession.
This proved to be a tactical error as Carnegie scored 15 unanswered points in the next 14 minutes.
They gained the ball back following Cope’s kick and pace out wide told for Stegmann to cross, though this time Ford’s conversion attempt was off target.
Moments later Ford kicked to the corner from a penalty after a scrum collapsed in Carnegie’s half and Stedman went over following the lineout, the fly-half’s conversion making it 19-8 after just 21 minutes.
Nine minutes later Ford took a simple three points from a penalty in front of the Reds’ posts, but Jersey grabbed a lifeline on the stroke of half-time,.
Yorkshire prop Lewis Boyce was sin-binned for a scrum offence and following the penalty and lineout Regan King popped out an offload to Cope, who converted his own try.
Ford landed a penalty within moments of the second half kick-off, but Jersey applied some strong pressure and were rewarded when King and Cope carved out a try for Ross Adair.
Cope’s goal cut Yorkshire’s advantage to three points
At that stage Jersey looked capable of pulling off a shock, but a try on the hour turned the game decisively in the hosts’ favour.
Dominant play by Carnegie’s forwards laid the platform and they kept the ball alive in outstanding style before Ford popped out a pass to send Forsyth over for his second try.
Yorkshire seemed to have made the game safe eight minutes later when Ford touched down from Steve McColl’s offload after Lucock and Stedman had handled following Matt Smith’s midfield charge.
But neither touchdown was converted and Jersey were not finished, Macfarlane’s second try, improved by Cope six minutes from time, setting up a tense finish.
Yorkshire’s coach Bryan Redpath was pleased with the result and bonus point, but not his team’s overall performance.
He said: “If I am brutally honest I am not particularly happy. We’ve shown we can score tries, but also we can concede if we don’t look after field position properly.
“I am delighted we’ve got five points and where we are in the league, but we are seven games in and we’ve still made some errors.That’s the alarming part for me.”
Yorkshire Carnegie: McColl (Beech 45, reversed 52), Holmes, Forsyth (Wright 75), Lucock, Stegmann, Ford, A Davies (Green 70), Boyce (Beech 78), Mayhew (Nilsen 61), O’Donnell (Cusack 56), Schofield (Whetton 52), Smith, Burrows, Beck (Saull 75), Stedman.
Jersey: Adair, J Davies King (Argyle 72), Eastwell, Watkins, Cope, Dudley (Hardy 52) , Thomas, Macfarlane, Kerrod (Armstrong 75), Voss (Katz 72), McKern, Rae (Kolo’ofa’i 72), Freeman, Haining. Unused replacements: McCarthy, Woolmore.
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth.