NEWCASTLE FALCONS v LEEDS CARNEGIE Wentzel in the mood to create a winning mentality

CAPTAINING a side is a role to relish, yet for Marco Wentzel it is proving an enormous challenge.

For the towering lock, leading Leeds Carnegie into battle every week is a task that makes him enormously proud, but at present is not something he is particularly enjoying.

"I won't say I'm relishing it – I'm doing it, but I'd rather be captaining a top four team where everybody is happy," says the 31-year-old South African.

"It is a big challenge, and it's much easier if you're in a team that's winning."

Therein lies the problem – Leeds are not winning, haven't done in the league since April when a narrow victory over Worcester ensured their Premiership survival and began the build-up to a season when winning was supposed to be on the agenda more often.

Victories have belatedly come in recent weeks – back-to-back wins over Italian side Crociati Rugby in the Amlin Challenge Cup – and spirits have been raised.

But the importance of today's game at Newcastle, the side seven points ahead of them in second-bottom, is huge.

And it makes the job of the captain, all the more important.

"There's a lot of challenges," Wentzel continues.

"First and foremost, I just need to focus on my game. I can give more responsibility to the senior players, it's good to have those to fall back on, people like Hendre Fourie, Steve Thompson and Mike MacDonald to help me along "It's good to have those guys back, in and around the camp, helping people out.

"But it is a tough environment if you're losing. It's tough for the players, it's tough for the coaches, it's tough for the fans, the physios, the doctors – it's tough for everyone.

"We need to win, the place is a brighter place right now because we've won our last two games and you look forward to coming to work and we're enjoying doing our jobs again.

"I still enjoy doing my job but we want to win."

Like the coaching staff of Andy Key and Neil Back, Wentzel joined Leeds from Leicester Tigers where winning was a habit.

Adjusting to that culture change is never easy, particularly for a player whose captaincy experience is limited to his time at Headingley Carnegie.

Where Wentzel is his most inspirational is on the field, as a dominant lineout figure, a fierce scrummager, a robust tackler and a strong ball carrier.

But he is also learning daily how to deal with the man-management side of the captain's role.

"Some players you need to have a chat with, some you don't," he said.

"I try to focus more on the forwards because that's my department. But some guys need a bit of a pat on the back, some a bit of a push, and it's deciding who needs what.

"We've got a lot of talkers in the forwards, it's a real open and honest forum. It's player led and also run by Backy.

"The backs are a different beast but I try to keep away from them, I don't really want to get involved with them!"

That line is not meant to express a lack of cohesion between forward and backs – although results may suggest so – but in jest at the banter between the two factions.

"It's a great bunch of lads though and I really just want these guys to start winning because we've got a lot of great players, a lot of passionate players and it hasn't always gone our way this year," he said.

What heartens Wentzel and his team-mates is that they were in this very position last year and successfully extracted themselves out of it.

A 24-hour delay to today's game at Kingston Park has not helped preparations, particularly with such a short turnaround following today's game before the visit of Gloucester on Saturday.

But Wentzel reveals the belief remains strong among the squad.

He said: "We're not clinging to the second half of last season, but the fact that we did it last year – we really turned it around and squeezed a few wins and got a bit of momentum – is encouraging.

"This weekend is as good a time as any to start moving in the right direction, especially with Gloucester coming up on Saturday.

"We can't really wait too much longer can we? We built some momentum last year and we are in a similar place this year, maybe a few weeks later, and I think we are now where we probably should have been four months ago.

"We're settled into our game plan, we lost a few players we gained a few, but we're settled now, and that is going to prove very important."

Andy Key and head coach Neil Back have made only a handful of changes to the side that won in Italy last week.

As expected, England internationals Thompson and Fourie return with Thompson partnered by Gareth Hardy and Phil Swainston in the front row.

Hanry Fa'afili continues at outside centre after impressing against Crociati, and Warren Fury makes a rare Premiership start at scrum-half.

Lachlan Mackay continues at fly-half with Ceiron Thomas at full-back.

For Newcastle, Euan Murray makes his debut after joining from Northampton.

Meanwhile, Leeds have brought forward the kick-off of their New Year's Day game against Gloucester to 1pm, in an attempt to compensate for further bad weather.