TALISMANIC skipper Marco Wentzel is ready to stay at Leeds Carnegie if they are relegated – but only if they build a squad to go straight back up in 2011-12.
Rock-bottom Carnegie’s Aviva Premiership fate will be decided on Saturday, with the Yorkshiremen favourites for the drop heading into the final round of fixtures, which sees them face a daunting trip to Heineken Cup finalists Northampton Saints.
If they finish bottom, the only thing that would reprieve them would be a victory for Cornish Pirates over Worcester in the two-legged Championship final that begins on May 11, with the Warriors the only play-off side to fulfil top-flight entry criteria.
While Wentzel and his colleagues are steadfastly focusing on pulling off a final-day Great Escape act at Saints – while hoping for a favour from Bath against big relegation rivals Newcastle Falcons at The Rec – contingency plans drawn up several months ago will become operational if the spectre of relegation is realised.
Carnegie will receive a one-off parachute payment of £2.6m if they drop into the Championship, but with debts having risen to around £2m and having to be repaid, the lion’s share of that would be expected to service it.
It begs the question of how competitive Carnegie would be, especially with an exodus of names having already left – England hooker Steve Thompson is heading to Wasps next season and Luther Burrell and Kearnan Myall have joined Sale Sharks.
If Leeds go down and the financial noose tightens, any remaining saleable and in-demand assets – more especially Hendre Fourie and Wentzel – could follow, along with head coach Neil Back.
South African lock Wentzel, who penned a new two-year-deal only in February, but who would attract renewed interest following relegation, said: “I’m happy to stay. (But) I’m quite interested to see what happens if we don’t stay up.
“In all fairness, I’d like to stay if there is a squad that is going to compete in the Championship and come straight back up.
“If we don’t have a squad to come straight up, why are we still playing the game?
“It’s a tough time financially. But we need to understand that it’s a business being run by the club and they don’t want to run it into financial ruin.
“Hopefully, we’ll win this weekend; if not and things need to be sorted out and the club needs to move forward and make new plans, obviously there will be a lot of changes.
“It’s a tough time for management, players and everyone and the best thing we can do is go down to Northampton and win this weekend.
“We still have a sniff, although we know it’s going to be tough. But any team can beat anyone else on the day – who would have thought we would have won at London Irish last year?
“It’s a massive game, not just for the players, but for the back-room staff and fans and everyone. It’s a big game for Yorkshire; we want to call our club a Premiership one.”
On his prospects of featuring on Saturday, Wentzel added: “It’s 50/50. I wasn’t supposed to play against Quins.
“I hadn’t trained for two weeks and if we could have won that game, it would have given us a real chance. So we kind of took a gamble and unfortunately it didn’t pay off.”
Weekend results saw Newcastle grab a losing bonus point at home to Bath on Saturday to move a point clear of Carnegie with a massively superior points difference.