Leeds's preparations put on ice by 24-hour delay

LEEDS Carnegie's vital Boxing Day match at Newcastle Falcons has been postponed 24 hours due to the Arctic weather conditions.

Premiership Rugby officials have approved the amendment to the fixture which pits the Premiership's bottom two clubs against one other, confirming it will now take place on Monday at 3pm.

Northumbrian referee Dave Pearson inspected the Kingston Park pitch yesterday morning and deemed it unfit to play on.

But with hot air blowers working on the pitch in an attempt to thaw out the frost, officials hope the

24-hour postponement will enable the game to go ahead on Monday.

Leeds's director of rugby Andy Key, whose side are seven points adrift of Newcastle at the foot of the Premiership table, was frustrated at the news but sympathetic to the situation.

He said: "It's disappointing

because you plan your whole week out in preparation for that particular day but that's the

nature of sport and unfortunately the weather we have been dealt is not helpful.

"Newcastle will monitor the situation and they are doing everything they can, but the problem is the snowfall on the east coast which is a lot worse than it is here.

"We have had to switch a couple of training sessions – we were in (yesterday), we're giving them Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off and then we'll have them in for a few hours on Sunday.

"These things are always going to happen and at least at this stage the game is still on."

Light snow is forecast for the north east on Monday, but before that sunny intervals today and tomorrow, allied with a slight

increase in temperature, which raises hopes that the 24-hour

delay will pay dividends.

What the postponement does do, however, is present further problems for Leeds in that it shortens their turnaround to just five days between the trip to Newcastle and the home game with Gloucester on New Year's Day.

Carnegie will not return from the north east until late Monday evening with the players who featured at Kingston Park afforded a day off to recover before getting back into training on Wednesday ahead of their next crucial game against the Cherry and Whites.

Gloucester's home game against Northampton Saints at Kingsholm was the first of the Boxing Day Premiership fixtures to fall foul of the weather, meaning they will have had upt to 12 days to prepare for the trip to Leeds on New Year's Day following their Challenge Cup defeat to La Rochelle, as opposed to Leeds's four.

"It's not ideal but we have done it before," said Key. "I am confident that we have the squad strength to absorb the turnaround time.

"The key at Newcastle is two-fold – to come away with a victory and to not pick up any injuries.

"At the moment the team is in a good place, the squad is in great shape and we are well-placed to handle this."

Leeds do, indeed, find themselves going into a pivotal block of Premiership fixtures which culminates in a trip to Bath on January 8 in rude mental and physical health.

But for long-term absentees Andy Titterell and Sean Hohneck and a slight niggle for Jon Pendlebury, Leeds would have a clean bill of health.

It is the strongest the squad has looked all season and they are also buoyed by two victories over Italian side Crociati Rugby in

Europe's Amlin Challenge Cup that sets them up perfectly for a game at Kingston Park which they can ill afford to lose.

Defeat on Monday would see them slip to a minimum of 10 points adrift of 11th place, a deficit that would require three wins to overhaul. A first win of the season, however, could see them climb to within two points of the Falcons if they claim a try bonus and prevent the hosts taking anything from the game.

Leeds found themselves in a similar situation on December 27 last year, headed up to Newcastle propping up the table and in dire need of a victory.

They delivered that day and Key believes all the factors are in place for them to do so again.

"They were awful conditions last year, something you don't want to play in," acknowledged Key.

"However, last year our mental state was stronger than Newcastle's, we knew we had to compete and win that game.

"Our mental state was superb and we face that exact situation now. We had two guys unwell prior to that game and yet they

put in 60/70-minute performances of the highest order – one of them was Seru Rabeni.

"That just demonstrated massively where the team was and where individuals were.

"We can see that now, that coming off the back of these two games, this squad is in a similar mental state.

"What we've been looking for throughout the season is for all our players to play to their potential – the senior guys are playing to that level and they are dragging the younger guys through.

"Danny Paul was outstanding in Italy, our bench was outstanding, they were backing up the great work the guys did.

"We are in a very good mental state and that's what we'll take into Newcastle. Newcastle have had it tough, they have a new coach in Alan Tait and they've been dogged with a few injuries, but they are a rugged and determined side.

"Conditions weren't clever last year and we had to really dig deep and fight hard. We are getting ourselves prepared and in shape for a game we know we need to win.

"It's a game that gives us a great chance of kickstarting our season, but it's more important that our performance continues throughout the period because we've got Gloucester five days later and then Bath the following week.

"It's important over these three games that we come out with good results."