DEAN Richards admits Sunday’s fixture switch to Otley is unusual, but recognises Leeds Carnegie had little alternative given the state of their Headingley pitch, writes MARK SMITH.
The Championship table-toppers were due at Headingley as they bid to continue their unbeaten run, but with the surface cutting up badly under the full weight of rugby union scrums the Yorkshire club have been forced to seek an alternative home in the short term.
Replaying their league date with Plymouth last weekend after the controversial decision by the match referee to go to uncontested scrums just 13 minutes into the original game, Leeds have moved a whole raft of subsequent fixtures to avoid a repeat.
Newcastle’s director of rugby (pictured below) said: “They are obviously safeguarding the pitch at Headingley. Given what happened in their game against Plymouth I can sort of understand the reason why, but it is a strange situation how it all came about.
“The referee who took charge of the Leeds v Plymouth game was the same guy we had against London Scottish, but looking at it from the Leeds perspective there is not a huge amount they could do.”
Richards added: “They need eight or nine weeks of growing time to get the new pitch right, and with the way their schedule works there is no real respite for the venue.
“Having Leeds Rhinos based at the same stadium means rugby league is their primary sport.”
Upset more by the start time than the revised location, the Falcons boss said: “Having the game kick off at noon is a strange one and not something that will help us at all, not to mention our supporters travelling down to make the trip. That is unfortunately the way it is, though, and we will just have to get on with it.”
Preparing to visit an Otley club which hosted games during the 1991 Rugby World Cup as well as the North of England’s historic victory over the 1979 New Zealand All Blacks, Richards said: “The facilities are fine, and it is a nice club. As a rugby player you have got to play in all conditions and in all types of venues, and when we went there with Harlequins a few years back we really enjoyed it.
“I remember the grass being a little too long at the time, hopefully it will be a bit shorter on Sunday but it is what it is.”
Despite last Friday’s 34-3 victory at Cross Keys securing Newcastle a home quarter-final in the British and Irish Cup, they must now play the waiting game to learn who their opponents will be.
With the weather disrupting the final round of matches the pool phase will now not be completed until February 24 when Nottingham host Llandovery – Bristol facing Cardiff two days earlier.
Meanwhile, rugby club members, volunteers and supporters from across the region are invited to have their say on the future governance of the game when RFU management board chairman Bill Beaumont visits Tynedale RFC on Monday February 18 (7.30pm start).
The former England captain is in the North East for one of 12 consultation roadshows. Rugby development team area manager Mike Barnett said: “The union is keen to get the opinions of the volunteers who run the game on how to update the constitution, and create a governing body that combines excellence on and off the pitch.
“The Tynedale meeting is a vehicle for the army of volunteers to have their say and be listened to by Bill Beaumont and his team, who can take those thoughts and opinions forward. I hope to see lots of people at Tynedale Park offering their views.”