Bath V Leeds Carnegie: Ability to climb the table vital for Leeds to expand

AVIVA PREMIERSHIP: CLIMBING off the foot of one table offers significant clout at another.

Leeds Carnegie visit Bath today knowing victory will not only see them climb above Newcastle into 11th in the Aviva Premiership, but will also strengthen their position at the negotiating table.

Open season on out-of-contract players in the coming summer has begun and Leeds know full-well that the team at the bottom of the league at this stage of the season often gets left behind.

Last year Leeds saw promising young players Calum Clark and Joe Ford, together with established professionals Erik Lund and Seru Rabeni, enticed elsewhere before their battle against the drop had been won.

With up to seven players out of contract at Headingley Carnegie in the summer and players at other clubs seeking a fresh challenge, Leeds are keen not to be chasing their competitors again.

"There is a wider picture in terms of recruitment, and that is absolutely key," said Leeds head coach Neil Back, who believes the four-week Premiership break following today's trip to Bath could be pivotal in shaping next season's squad.

"Not only recruitment of new players, but extending and renewing existing contracts.

"If you're off the bottom then you can do that with a great deal of confidence. If you're still on the bottom then it could produce a lag in proceedings, and that could be catastrophic.

"You're able to talk to players with six months to go and with a number of players out of contract, this is where you start formulating squads for next season.

"The teams in the top half can plan with some assurance that they will be in the Premiership next season, and can go and get the best players who want to compete in the Heineken Cup.

"It is important for the building of our squad that we're able to recruit with some confidence.

"It won't be easy for us. Winning at the weekend won't ensure Premiership status but it shows a good indication that we're a team that's turning things around.

"We've got a bit more credibility than we had last year because we've shown we can do it, although we'd have hoped to have been a bit further on than we are.

"The sooner you can consolidate the easier that process is. At the moment we could waste a lot of time talking to people, we need to get on winning, continue winning, then we can talk to players with more confidence."

Leeds spend just shy of 3m on player salaries which is significantly lower than the 4m the majority of their competitors spend.

Back remained tight-lipped on targets and their positions but a need to strengthen options in the half-backs, the props and on the wing appear the most obvious areas of concern.

He said: "We're talking to a number of players we want to bring in to enhance the squad and make it stronger.

"To move the club on they've got to be better than what we've got, which in some positions is not possible, but we need better than what we've got."

Bath might be only three places above Leeds but their inflated budget and the calibre of their players suggests that may be a false position.

Both teams go into the game on the back of a win. It was a first in six for Bath while Leeds have now strung together three on the trot when factoring in two victories in the European Challenge Cup.

Last Saturday's win over Gloucester has fortified belief in the camp that relegation can be defied for a second consecutive season, and for Back, a player for whom winning was a habit, that narrow triumph over the Cherry and Whites was one of the most significant of his career.

"I've scoffed in the past when media have asked me if a certain game is a massive game because to me every game is massive and must-win," the World Cup winner said this week.

"But this one had a little more to it.

"For the first time in my career as a player or coach, we had to win and we thankfully did that with a good performance and greater maturity.

"I had to compose myself afterwards because it was such a massive win for the club.

"I was very emotional at the end of the game because I knew the hard work that had been put in by the players and what it meant to them and all the support staff here.

"There's still 12 games to go, we're in a similar situation to last year, we had nine points from 10 last year, seven this year. We're on the back of three good wins and we hope to take that into Bath.

"We've got to play to our strengths, our game-plan, and hopefully that will get us the result."