Leeds look to strengthen despite uncertainty

Despite their standing at the foot of the Premiership table, Leeds Carnegie say they are close to agreeing contracts for existing players and new recruits.

More than a dozen players come to the end of their Headingley contracts in the summer, among them some high-profile names including inspirational captain Marco Wentzel, fly-half Ceiron Thomas and centre Henry Fa'afili.

The Yorkshire club are also keen to strengthen their squad, particularly in the backs.

And although which division the club will be playing in next year remains unclear – with Leeds four points adrift at the bottom – head coach Neil Back has revealed that contract negotiations are going well.

He said: "In regards players internally it's been encouraging and there will be some announcements shortly. In terms of bringing people in, we're talking to a lot of agents.

"We're a long way down the line on players that might enhance the squad.

"All the noise going out to agents is that it's a fun, competitive environment here at Leeds.

"We're lacking one or two quality players out there that make the difference.

"But if I was a back out there. looking at the stats and the platform the forward pack provides, I'd want to play at Leeds."Hopefully, we can strengthen the squad."

Lock Wentzel leads a relatively strong Carnegie team for what is effectively a dead rubber against Bucharest Oaks in the Amlin European Challenge Cup tomorrow (2pm).

Stade Francais' win over the Yorkshire side in Paris last Sunday saw the French club progress and condemned Leeds to a second successive runners-up finish in the pool stages of Europe's second-tier competition.

Nevertheless, Back and director of rugby Andy Key are looking to continue building momentum towards their return to Premiership duty on February 13 against Leicester.

With that in mind, England internationals Steve Thompson and Hendre Fourie have been named in the starting XV before they depart for Six Nations duty with England on Monday.

Phil Nilsen is on the bench for Leeds and will replace Thompson midway through the second half, with the 25-year-old set to be first-choice hooker over the coming two months.

Scott Freer, 22, whose recuperation from injury has continued while on loan at Otley, will provide cover.

Winger Michael Stephenson returns after missing last week's game with a dead leg and Danny Paul returns from injury in the back row.