Ruck and Maul: Leeds' freefall is over but Neil can't Back out of parachute jump

Leeds Carnegie's former coach Neil Back and hooker Steve Thompson shook off the after-effects of relegation – and their departure from the Headingley club – with a trip to Afghanistan last weekend, visiting British and American troops in Camp Bastion and Camp Souter.

The four-day trip was organised by Dave Matthews, Leeds' kit manager whose nephew Mark is a serving soldier. Back is taking on a 13,000ft parachute jump this summer in aid of Help for Heroes, while Thompson, the England front-rower who will join Wasps next season, is supporting the Row2Recovery trans-atlantic venture by injured servicemen in December.

"Driving down the centre of Kabul with your head out of the top of a Land Rover was an eye-opener," Thompson told Ruck and Maul.

"You can have arguments about why the troops are there but they are doing a job and they do it well. They said it was good for morale, meeting us, but I was just lost in admiration for them and the whole machine of the Army. I'd love to go back, hopefully after England have done well in the World Cup."

The Hercules flight from Britain was good practice for Back. "We were up in the cockpit," said Thompson, who is now in the United States, spending time with former England team-mate Ben Cohen. "I asked them to plateau out at 13,000ft and pointed out to Backy a tanker below that looked like a dinghy. He knows now what he's letting himself in for."

Hendre Fourie and Marco Wentzel joined the exodus from Leeds last week and Thompson revealed: "We were all willing halfway through the season to stay together if there was a financial plan but then it went quiet and you draw your own conclusions."

Cheika fumes over referee

The Stade Français coach, Michael Cheika, is rumoured to have banned smoking among puff-happy players, including the scrum-half Julien Dupuy, for next season.

The pair of them needed something to dull the pain, however, after Friday's Amlin Challenge Cup final defeat by Harlequins in Cardiff. It left Stade relying on a Northampton win yesterday to qualify for the Heineken Cup and Cheika's position looking shaky.

The Australian railed at Ireland's George Clancy for his refereeing of the final two scrums, in which Quins got away with a dodgy engagement and then Dupuy was shouted at to "use it, use it" as the scrum became stationary. The law does say the ball should come out immediately or you lose the put-in but the main point is to stop teams running down the clock. Stade were a point behind and desperate to make something happen.

Clancy, who will handle the potentially explosive World Cup opener between New Zealand and Tonga in September, surely should have whistled instead of following an infuriating tendency by telling players what he thought they should do.

Video nasties

The forensic description by us rugby writers of Manu Tuilagi's punches at Leicester last weekend was aided by replays on the big screens at Welford Road. These are permitted, say Premiership Rugby, so the paying punters are not denied pictures available to armchair viewers.

It is different for Tests at Twickenham and Cardiff, where the screens go blank or show sponsors' messages after fights and the like. Oddly, the RFU judgment on Tuilagi stated he would miss "England U20 sevens" at the start of his five-week ban this weekend. Eh? We know Leicester entered a team in yesterday's Braidholm Sevens but the likelihood of Tuilagi playing in that must have been slim.

Meanwhile, clubs have received a circular from the Premiership Rugby manager, Phil Winstanley, reminding coaches to behave and hinting that greater segregation in the stands will be required next season. In a separate development, Ruck and Maul understands that neutral semi-final venues may be introduced.

hughgodwin@yahoo.co.uk

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