Hetherington: Back can keep us up
February 18, 2011
Leeds head coach Neil Back insists he does not feel anymore pressure despite the departure of director of rugby Andy Key © Getty Images
Leeds Carnegie chief executive Gary Hetherington has backed head coach Neil Back to "thrive" under the pressure of keeping the Yorkshire club in the Aviva Premiership following the departure of director of rugby Andy Key on Thursday.
Leeds are currently bottom of the table, three points behind 11th-placed Newcastle, after securing just one league win so far this season. Key and Back joined the Headingley club in 2008 and oversaw promotion to the top flight before managing to keep them up against the odds last season.
That achievement saw Key named Premiership director of rugby of the season, but he has now left the club as part of a management restructuring, with Back in sole charge of first-team matters and Hetherington taking on some of Key's duties.
Back now has 10 games to keep his side up, starting with Sunday's meeting with second-placed Saracens. But Hetherington is backing the 66-cap former England flanker, a World Cup winner in 2003, to handle the pressure.
He told a press conference: "We are thinking ahead about where we are going and how we are going to get there. Andy and Neil came to us as a pair and if we look at the progress we have made in the last two and a half years Andy can look back on many achievements with pride. But this next nine or 10 games needs a single-minded focus, and Neil has got that sole responsibility and I think Neil will thrive with that responsibility."
Hetherington, who says the club will not bring any new coaches in to help Back, also insisted that if changes had not been made now, then they would have been implemented at the end of the current campaign and maintains that morale remains high among the playing squad despite their precarious position.
"We are mindful we have 10 games to go and need to get some wins," he continued. "Changes were already evolving within the coaching department and we sought to accelerate those changes. It's a judgement call and we would have made the same call at the end of the season, and with our need to win matches we felt now would be a better time.
"The directors want to see some forward momentum and that means occasionally there are casualties, that's the industry we are employed in. While it's not a part of the job that anyone enjoys, you have to make decisions and you are constantly thinking of what is in the best interest of the team going forward, it does not come down to what is best for any individual.
"We are optimistic we will be in the Premiership next year. Our goal had been to make more progress this season but we are realistic enough to know the aim is to finish above one other team and we are confident we can do that.
"We look at the strength of the team and the competitiveness of the team and the fixtures going forward. The morale and spirit is normally lacking in a team at the bottom but Leeds Carnegie are not lacking in that with what is almost half of the season left."
Many pundits see Leeds' fixture against fellow strugglers Newcastle next weekend as the key contest in their battle for survival, but Back was keen to point out that every game is vital. "Andy and I came here with a vision over three years and we are not quite there, but we knew there would be changes and no-one is guaranteed to be here for that journey. We have lost players, and introduced others.
"I don't feel any more pressure than I did before the announcement. But it's a collective effort. Players and management are clear about their roles and we are looking forward to the game and that's where our focus is. Your next game is your biggest game. We are not thinking about two weeks' time we are thinking about Saracens at the weekend."
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