Mission improbable for Leeds

Leeds face a mission improbable against Zurich Premiership wild card opponents Saracens tomorrow in what should be their last game of an impressive season.

Leeds face a mission improbable against Zurich Premiership wild card opponents Saracens tomorrow in what should be their last game of an impressive season.

But Tykes boss Phil Davies wants his players to bow out on a high note, even if clawing back a 36-point first-leg deficit predictably proves beyond them.

The wild card winners – Harlequins are three points ahead of Leicester going into tomorrow’s second semi-final at Welford Road – will clinch Heineken Cup qualification next season.

Fifth-placed Premiership finishers Leeds though, are guaranteed to join the European elite whatever happens tomorrow, provided Wasps beat Parker Pen Challenge Cup final opponents Bath on Sunday week.

Leeds crashed 57-21 against Saracens in midweek, but Davies said: “It should not take anything away from what has been an outstanding season.

“I am immensely proud to coach such a committed, talented and hard-working group of players, and it has been a pleasure to have enjoyed this season on the back of their efforts.

“I was asked after the match on Wednesday night if the tie was now over, and of course, it is possible that we could do the same to them at Headingley as they did at Vicarage Road, but it will be an extremely difficult match.

“First and foremost, we need to concentrate on winning the game and not the tie. Our home record has been a source of pride for all of us this season, and we really want to finish off in good form in front of our fans.”

Full-back Dan Scarbrough makes his first start for six weeks after recovering from a knee injury, while hooker Mark Regan and flanker Cameron Mather also return, but injuries rule out wing Diego Albanese, Tom Palmer, Stewart Campbell, Dan Hyde and Braam van Straaten.

Saracens coach Wayne Shelford, whose team has one foot in the May 31 wild card final at Northampton, has made four changes.

Scrum-half Kyran Bracken rests a minor knock, so Canada international Morgan Williams deputises, with Richard Haughton replacing Cardiff-bound Tom Shanklin on the wing, prop Mike Storey taking over from calf strain victim Christian Califano and hooker Matt Cairns replacing Robbie Russell (dead leg).

“Kyran is a bit sore, and he still has a few games of rugby to go, with potentially a final on May 31 and vice-captaining England against the Barbarians,” said Shelford.

“We know that Leeds will be a different team at home, and we know they have strength in the lineout, the pack and in the middle of the park.

“We put a good score on them in midweek, and they will want to prove a point on Sunday, so we must ensure that we front-up, We have a handy lead, and it would just be diabolical to lose the advantage.”

Double European champions Leicester can only qualify for next season’s Heineken Cup if they win the wild card competition.

But Martin Johnson’s men are red-hot favourites to send Quins packing, setting up a probable clash with Saracens later this month.

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