|Mike MacDonald takes on Bucuresti Oaks|
Bucuresti Oaks will be no strangers to Leeds Carnegie when the two teams clash in their opening Amlin Challenge Cup game on Saturday.
The Yorkshiremen sealed back-to-back wins against the Romanian outfit in last season’s Cup campaign, paving the way for five wins from six in all competitions from December to early January. In the same fixture last season, Leeds recorded a hard-fought 10-6 victory at a snowy Arcul de Triumf, a late Rhys Oakley try saving Carnegie’s blushes. Neil Back’s men followed up this win with a convincing 47-0 hammering of Bucuresti at Headingley Carnegie a week later.
Leeds approach this game looking for a much needed boost after recording five straight defeats in the Aviva Premiership. This matches Bucuresti’s current form of five losses from five, with an injury crisis threatening to derail their chances of securing their first win of the season. Oaks have 10 players ruled out with injury for Saturday’s clash from their squad of 28. This has forced them to draft in two replacements in line with competition regulations.
Carnegie will be without Danny Paul after he was ruled out with a rib injury. The number eight picked up the knock in his first start in nearly a year against London Irish last Saturday. Prop Phil Swainston is also out with a wrist injury and number eight Alfie To’oala is sidelined whilst he recovers from an operation to correct an adductor muscle.
Despite shipping 40 points in both of their last two league games, there is hope for Leeds. A ridiculously high penalty count was instrumental in their demise at the Majedski Stadium last Saturday, where the Exiles punished the visitors for their mistakes. However, Leeds did score two tries and the game was more hard-fought than the result suggests. It is clear that Carnegie need to tighten their defence and banish errors, especially around the ever controversial breakdown, if they are to improve their points difference. With two points scored against them for every point they notch up, it doesn’t take a mathematician to work out Leeds are giving teams at least a 15 point head start.
Carnegie have been trying to play a more attacking brand of rugby this season but they are still missing that vital cutting edge. Maybe a game against a limping Bucuresti will allow them to fine tune this game plan and return home to face Stade Français with renewed vigour and an all important win? And yet, rumours of splits in the Leeds camp does not make happy reading for Carnegie fans, and a defeat against a patched together Bucuresti side could threaten to derail Leeds’ season altogether.
However, I am positive. Leeds are renowned for being slow starters and I think a win in Romania will help to kick-start their season.
My prediction: Leeds by 6.