OUTGOING director of rugby Andy Key has cast aside his disappointment to confidently predict that Leeds Carnegie will retain their Aviva Premiership status at the end of the 2010-11 campaign.
Key parted company with Carnegie following a restructuring of the club’s coaching department in a surprise development yesterday with the Headingley outfit three points adrift at the foot of the table with 10 games left.
The former Leicester Tigers Academy supremo and first-team coach had been hoping to inspire a re-run of Carnegie’s Great Escape mission of last season at the business end of 2010-11, alongside head coach Neil Back, but now finds himself watching developments from afar.
Key, hugely disappointed to have been relieved on his duties, will be rooting for the club to stay up and is unequivocal in his belief they will.
He said: “I’m pretty certain the side will not go down, but will stay up. It has an infrastructure that is good enough to do that.
“I don’t believe for one minute they will go down and will be in the Premiership next year and let’s hope they can grow from there.
“It’s all about trying to push the side on and the club on to the sort of levels it needs to do to compete week-in, week-out. And it’s not far away.”
He added: “I’ve enjoyed my time massively at Leeds. I think we’ve done a huge amount collectively and people have supported me all the way and I’m grateful for that.
“It’s a shame it has had to come to an end the way that it is, but the club appear to believe it’s right to restructure and I wish them all the very best.
“It’s all about another part of my life now.”
Key leaves Yorkshire with a medley of memories after arriving at the club alongside Back in the summer of 2008, with their first season seeing them orchestrate promotion to the Premiership and the National One title in 2008-09, with the club narrowly failing to make it a silverware double after losing to Moseley in the EDF Energy National Trophy at Twickenham in April 2009.
After a fraught first half to last term, Carnegie then enjoyed a remarkable Lazarus-style recovery in the second-half of the campaign, winning six of their final 12 matches to secure top-flight safety at the expense of Worcester Warriors, who they beat in a never-to-be-forgotten Survival Sunday showdown dubbed the £1m match at Headingley in April 2010.
The likes of England international Hendre Fourie have particularly prospered massively under the stewardship of Key and Back and the former will always cherish his time at the club.
He added: “I’ve a massive amount of good memories.
“I’ve got some great memories from the first year, which was non-negotiable (with promotion) and the work that had to go on to get us in the right place there.
“And then there was the battle in the first year of the Premiership; it was all exciting times and I think the players and management have learnt massively as a result of it.
“We’ve missed the support, I have to admit. We were hoping the good old Yorkshire support would have got behind us. But those supporters that have – and there have been a whole number of very loyal ones – have travelled everywhere, abroad and within the country.
“Those have become close sort of friends almost and part of the infrastructure and I thank them massively.
“(The support) is one of those hurdles the club has to get over. I know it’s working hard in trying to obtain the sort of finances to go forward and it will continue to battle in that.”
After dusting himself down following his shock departure from Headingley Carnegie, Key has pledged to return to club rugby.
Key added: “The period I have been here (at Leeds) has only excited me even more.
“I’ve massively enjoyed it and never had a problem with getting up each morning and doing whatever hours needed to do the job.
“It’s been a thrill and it’s exactly what I want to do.
“It’s about seeing over a period of time now whether there will be opportunities for me to continue to develop and do the job that I like.”