Leeds risk quarter-final place by refusing to play

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The Independent Online

Leeds, at serious risk of slamming the back door on themselves in terms of pinching a place in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup, were last night awaiting the consequences of refusing to play the Italian side Calvisano on a brick-hard pitch at the weekend. They could be docked points by the tournament organisers. They may even be fined. The European Rugby Cup Ltd board met in Dublin yesterday to consider their options.

Initially, the organisers hoped the twice-postponed game would be played yesterday, but the Yorkshiremen were in the air on their way back home at the time of the proposed kick-off. Calvisano had no quibble with the decision not to start the game at the scheduled time on Saturday, as the playing surface at Centro Sportivo San Michele was better suited to Torvill and Dean than Justin Marshall. They were less pleased when, 24 hours later, the new Leeds coach Daryl Powell considered that the pitch still represented a danger to life and limb.

Unfortunately for Leeds, the Irish referee George Clancy sided with the Italians and pronounced the pitch playable. Powell stuck to his guns. "This was a massive game in the history of the club and we are really disappointed not to have played," the former rugby league international said. "But looking after your players comes first. The pitch should have been covered for a few days before the game."

By way of making their point, the Italians staged a second-string match at the ground after Leeds had departed and it may well be that the pitch will be in good condition for the rest of the week. However, the chances of rearranging both the fixture and the travel arrangements in so short a space of time - Leeds play Cardiff in the final pool match at Headingley on Sunday - are remote . For the first time in the Heineken Cup's 11-year history, a match is likely to go by the board.

This will hurt Leeds far more than Calvisano. A bonus-point victory at the weekend would have given them a puncher's chance of qualification for the knock-out stage as one of the two best runners-up from the pool phase. That opportunity appears to have evaporated.

The Wales coach Mike Ruddock was today scheduled to name his 30-man squad for the Six Nations Championship, which begins against England at Twickenham a fortnight on Saturday. Ruddock will be without Ryan Jones, his Lions No 8, who is injured, and Gavin Henson, his centre, who is suspended.