DESPERATE Leeds Carnegie will aim to make relegation a three-horse race when they travel to fellow-strugglers Sale Sharks tonight (7.45pm).
Leeds are bottom of the Aviva Premiership, seven points adrift of closest rivals Newcastle Falcons.
But Sale are only two points above the north east outfit and if Leeds can record a third win of the campaign, that will drag the Manchester club into the relegation battle.
“To give ourselves the best chance we want to pull as many teams as possible into the scrap,” said Carnegie full-back Michael Stephenson.
“We have got games coming up that are winnable and other teams around us have possibly harder run-ins, but that doesn’t mean anything.
“The two teams above us could go the rest of the season without gaining a point, but we would still be relegated if we didn’t win our games.
“We have got to get some points on the board and get some results going our way, to put pressure on other teams.
“We play Sale and we have got Newcastle again, so they are big games that we can target. We have just got to win, anyway we possibly can.”
Stephenson believes that Sale will also be approaching tonight as a must-win match.
He said: “They will probably think that if they win their season is safe.
“We have got to keep them on their toes, keep them having to fight for every game for the rest of the season.
“That will make the league a lot more interesting.”
Sale have beaten Leeds twice this season, 23-17 in the LV Cup and 6-3 at Headingley in a Premiership clash which Stephenson described as a “terrible game”.
He said: “I hope it will be a bit more exciting. That’s the way it goes, if teams have so much riding on the result nobody wants to put a foot wrong or make a mistake – but it would be nice to see some tries this time.”
Head coach Neil Back wants Carnegie to turn the clock back to their season-reviving win at Sale last term.
He said: “That really helped our momentum in the second half of the season and we will be looking for a similar performance. “We now have three massive games in the coming weeks to keep our destiny in our hands and that is how we are approaching tonight.”
Back described Sale as “a very strong side, with internationals across their team”, but he reckons Carnegie are in good shape after having last weekend off.
“They appear to have benefited from the rest,” he observed.
“Everyone came back in at the start of the week with a spring in their step and we are looking forward to the game.
“We have Steve Thompson and Hendre Fourie back with us on a full-time basis after the Six Nations and we have got a few guys back from injury, players who missed our last game against Northampton.”
Thompson’s return in the front row is one of five changes to Carnegie’s side tonight.
Mike MacDonald and Phil Swainston will pack down either side of Thompson, with Gareth Hardy and Juan Gomez starting on the bench.
Captain Marco Wentzel has recovered from a hamstring injury and resumes in the second row, replacing Sean Hohneck. The only change in the backs sees Lee Blackett return from injury in place of Scott Barrow, who had a hernia operation this week. Henry Fa’afili reverts to centre so Blackett can start on the right wing.
Fit-again back-rower Rhys Oakley takes James Craig’s place on the bench, alongside Christian Lewis-Pratt, who could make his first Premiership appearance since last October.
Leeds Carnegie (at Sale): Stephenson, Blackett, Faafili, Burrell, Wackett, Jarvis, Mathie, MacDonald, Thompson, Swainston, Browne, Wentzel, Myall, Fourie, Tooala. Replacements: Freer, Hardy, Gomez, Oakley, Paul, Fury, Lewis-Pratt, Tadulala.