LEEDS CARNEGIE director of rugby Andy Key has promised an "outstanding" display from his perturbed side tomorrow as they begin the crucial countdown to the most significant contest of their troubled campaign.
It is a bold declaration considering Leeds have won just once all season but given their Amlin Challenge Cup visitors are Italian minnows Rugby Parma and the Yorkshire club are bolstered by the return of England duo Steve Thompson and Hendre Fourie, he can afford to be confident.
However, Key is equally quick to assert the main focus of their
attention is the Boxing Day Premiership trip to Newcastle Falcons and their continuing bid to secure a maiden league victory.
Everything between now and then is geared towards ensuring that goal is achieved and they can finally lift themselves off the foot of the table. Such is the management team's desire to confirm they will be in the right frame of mind and physical condition for that crucial contest, they have placed added importance on a second string fixture against Leicester Tigers scheduled for Tuesday evening.
"We are taking the Amlin Challenge Cup seriously but it is not our most important game,"
"That is Newcastle and we've three games in the meantime – two against Parma and, sandwiched in between, an A League match against Leicester.
"We have challenged the squad that nobody is inked in yet for Newcastle.
"We've three games for the team and individuals to put in their best performances so we go into that match absolutely high with confidence, belief and total appreciation of the game plan.
"Everyone has an opportunity to put their name on that shirt and anyone coming down this weekend will definitely see an outstanding performance."
Leeds, embarrassed at Exeter in their previous outing, have grown to view last Sunday's postponement of their home tie with high-flying Northampton as a positive.
"We'll look at it as an opportunity over the coming weeks to make sure our performances massively improve," added Key.
"So, when we do eventually take on the Aviva Premiership leaders, we will be in far better form and we can give them a good run for their money if not actually embarrass them.
"The team wants to give a true reflection of where they are now though and Parma is the next challenge.
"The two weeks – with the weather being as it has – have helped hugely in working on their individual skills.
"Now it's up to them to step up and show they want that shirt."
Captain Marco Wentzel has shaken off a knock suffered at
Exeter to take his place as Leeds bid to add to their previous European win at Bucharest Oaks but flanker Kearnan Myall is injured.
Ceiron Thomas starts at full-back for the home side with former Wallaby Lachlan MacKay coming in at fly-half.
Rotherham fans helped clear their pitch yesterday in a bid to get this afternoon's British and Irish Cup game against Llandovery on while Doncaster Knights head to Birmingham & Solihull tomorrow.
Otley's National One game at Coventry is also expected to go ahead today and James Druce makes his Wharfedale debut against Rosslyn Park at Threshfield.