Guinness Premiership: Can Leeds stay up?

By Online Editorial

Rugby union

At the beginning of the season, Leeds looked certain relegation fodder, writes Ralph Ellis. However, recent form has seen them turn things around and now an unlikely escape could be on the cards.

Any sports follower can tell you about Leeds. Big potential, traditional sporting city, had money problems, just starting to show signs of turning things round, good man in charge now. And no, this isn’t about football, although all those things are true of Simon Grayson’s League One leaders. This is about Leeds Carnegie rugby club.

The team who should have been stone cold certainties to finish rock bottom of the Guinness Premiership have suddenly been showing signs of life. Ever since their California based captain Mike MacDonald returned to the club near the end of October after waiting to get his work permit, they have begun turning the formbook upside down.

It started when they lost at Saracens by only six points, continued with a shock win over star-studded Wasps, and narrow defeats to Sale and Harlequins were followed by a 16-15 victory at Newcastle the day after Boxing Day. That’s begun to be enough of a trend to wonder whether they are worth laying at anywhere between the current prices of 1.28 and 1.41 to finish the season in the relegation spot.

Certainly MacDonald, who led last season’s successful promotion campaign for a club who have yo-yoed for a few years, believes this time there are signs of survival. “We are learning on the job and we are putting together performances that are troubling teams,” he’s told the Daily Express’s Steve Bale today. “We’ve shown that anyone can beat anyone in this division.”

The win at Newcastle, where Leeds held on to a try by Samoan flanker Alfie To’oala Vaeluaga, brought them to within three points of Bath who have never recovered from the drama of last summer’s drug scandals. And it has also set the scene superbly for Saturday’s clash between the two clubs at Headingley.

Bath are a massive 13.0 to go down and that could be worth a punt because a defeat this weekend would leave them in all sorts of problems. Just as football teams who fall on hard times suddenly find they can’t cope with the strain of a relegation struggle, so would Bath’s big stars be put under a pressure they are not used to.

They will start big favourites to win at Headingley simply because of their reputation. The market has yet to form, but if before kick off you can lay them at anywhere around 1.33 it has to be value.

It’s a big weekend all round at the bottom of the Premiership table because Worcester, second favourites to finish bottom at [5], face Gloucester who are only two points higher up. The Kingsholm fans who hounded out Dean Ryan for losing the EDF Energy Cup final and finishing only sixth must wonder if things hadn’t been so bad after all.

Five things you might not know about Mike MacDonald:

1. Born in Berkeley, California, in November 1980 he was soccer captain at Miramonte High School until his brother persuaded him to try rugby instead

2. At 6ft 1ins and more than 19stone he also competed at wrestling and was third in the California State competition during his senior year at High School

3. He won four National Championships with the University of California and was named an All American five times between 2000 and 2004

4. He won the first of his current tally of 43 caps for America’s rugby team when he was still only 19

5. His first English club was Warriors, and he joined Leeds four years ago becoming captain a season later. But despite spending all that time with the club he had to miss the first two months of this season while he was waiting for a new work permit to be processed.

Reproduced with permission from © The Sporting Exchange Limited


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