LOOK Neil Back and any one of his Leeds Carnegie players firmly in the eye and the message is crystal clear – we are not down and out yet.
The Carnegie head coach’s rock-bottom side are seven points adrift of Aviva Premiership safety with just five games to go – starting at home to Exeter Chiefs tomorrow afternoon (3pm).
But Back insists that his unequivocal belief that Carnegie can orchestrate the mother of all great escapes is universally shared by first-team members at Headingley and is more than just defiant talk and bluster.
Back is adamant that a sense of iron resolve and belief can save Carnegie’s top-flight skins and says that both were massively prevalent just minutes after the final whistle of last Friday’s shattering 15-12 loss at Sale Sharks when he gathered his players in their traditional post-match huddle.
Equally, Back is quite comfortable with the rugby fraternity continuing to pen Carnegie’s Premiership obituary. The last thing that Carnegie will be caught doing is throwing in the towel – with their hopes of an unlikely survival fortified by last week’s narrow reverse at Sale, which should have yielded victory.
He said: “The players were massively disappointed at the end of the game at Sale. But when you gather the guys in the middle after the game and look for eye contact, I had that 100 per cent.
“I’m very honest and that’s our style at Leeds in terms of feedback. I’ve built up that reputation with the group, if I say it’s not over, it’s not over.
“I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t believe that it was true.
“I believe one of my strengths is that I say how it is and that people have to take me at my word.
“We hope everyone else thinks it is over and that they will come out and underperform – that will help us to achieve our objectives.
“Last week, we were not thinking that that was it because it’s far from over.
“We know it’s still in our hands and that we are not relying on other people. And while it’s still in our hands, there’s hope and there’s still belief in this squad.
“If we do what we believe we can do, we can stay in the Premiership. If we don’t, we don’t deserve to – it’s very much down to us.”
Meanwhile, Back is calling on the Yorkshire public to make their voices heard at Headingley tomorrow afternoon, just as they did when Exeter last visited West Yorkshire just before Christmas 2008 when a season-best crowd of 5,463 roared on the hosts to a key victory over their big promotion rivals en route to the National One title.
And while Carnegie’s support may be low in number compared to most Premiership counterparts, Back has paid tribute to the club’s vociferous loyal band of fans, while admitting that getting a few more parochial punters to Headingley for his side’s penultimate home match of the campaign tomorrow afternoon would represent a major boost to his side.
Urging fans to make themselves heard, he said: “We’ve loyal supporters and they give us a lift. I remember the game against Worcester last year when the crowd definitely carried us over the line – they are very important.
“We need the people of Yorkshire to support the team this weekend and be vocal. We’ve a hardcore of fans who are fantastic and the more we can have, the better our chances.”
Back makes one change to the side that lost at Sale Sharks.
Skipper Marco Wentzel is set to make his comeback from injury in the second row and replaces Sean Hohneck.
There is also a change on the bench with hooker Scott Freer ruled out with an arm injury so Phil Nilsen comes back into the squad.
Leeds Carnegie: Stephenson, Blackett, Faafili, Burrell
Wackett, Jarvis, Mathie, MacDonald, Thompson, Swainston, Browne, Wentzel, Myall, Fourie, Tooala. Replacements: Nilsen, Hardy, Gomez, Paul, Oakley,
White, Lewis Pratt, Tadulala.