Key tells Leeds to sharpen ruthless edge to stay safe

Director of rugby knows victory at Harlequins could be crucial in relegation battle
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The Independent Online

Andy Key insists relegation-threatened Leeds Carnegie will not be distracted by events elsewhere when they continue their battle to remain in the Guinness Premiership today.

Leeds visit Harlequins, seeking to maintain recently impressive league form and climb further away from the danger zone. Bottom club Worcester are also in action today, at home to London Irish.

Key, the Leeds director of rugby, knows the survival race has entered the final straight, but victory over Quins would give them a degree of breathing space if Worcester lose to title play-off contenders Irish. "Anyone who says that they do not look at other results is not telling the whole truth," Key said. "We are aware of who is playing who, but our only focus is on Harlequins on Saturday afternoon and controlling the things that we have a say in.

"We are getting down to the crucial part of the season, but this is what all the hard work all season has been about. We need to make it count."

Leeds took second-placed Northampton to the wire last Saturday before suffering a 14-9 defeat, and Key admits lessons from that game must be learnt quickly. "Northampton are the form team in the Premiership, but we pushed them all the way and opened them up on a number of occasions," he added. "We were not ruthless enough though, to capitalise on those opportunities. That is something we are going to have to correct quickly with just four games to go in the season."

The Quins director of rugby, Conor O'Shea, meanwhile, has praised the work of Key and his coaching colleague Neil Back. "We will face a Leeds team who are arguably coached by the coaching team of the year in Andy Key and Neil Back," O'Shea said ."Leeds are formidable opponents and represent a huge challenge for anyone they play.

"Strong in the set-piece, competitive at the breakdown, with a really good kicking game and players like Seru Rabeni out wide, they can really play."

If Leeds add Quins to their previous Premiership away-day scalps Wasps, Newcastle and Sale, then Worcester's survival hopes will suffer a huge setback unless they topple Irish.

The Warriors, currently three points behind Leeds and still to visit Headingley, host Irish and then Wasps next weekend – fixtures against play-off hopefuls that Worcester realistically cannot lose if they want to remain in English rugby's top flight.

Despite a 17-3 defeat at Sale last time out though, and the loss of shoulder injury victims Matt Mullan and Miles Benjamin until next season, Worcester's rugby director Mike Ruddock remains upbeat. "Even though we lost against Sale, you weren't looking at a Worcester Warriors side that was lacking spirit, that was not united or up for the fight," he said. "We were all over Sale in terms of possession, territory and carries. I think we had to make 85 tackles, while they had to make 142.

"We had the better of the game, but they made their tackles and kept us out. I couldn't fault the effort and commitment – the statistics will tell you that – but our precision and ability to cut the line was not as effective as them."

As for the relegation battle, Ruddock added: "We have been in these situations before. It is not something we are particularly proud of, but we are used to picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves down and getting on with it.