Rowland Winter said his Coventry Rugby side must be careful not to pay Saracens ‘too much respect’ during their eagerly-anticipated match today (5pm).
Mako and Billy Vunipola, Elliot Daly, Owen Farrell and Jamie George – all selected for this summer’s British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa – start for the visitors to the Butts Park Arena.
Mark McCall’s men, relegated to the Premiership for salary cap breaches, need a win to ensure their place in the top two and with it a place in the two-legged final to secure an instant return to the top flight.
“In some ways it’s a massive honour and a massive challenge to be able to put a team up against that,” said Winter.
“These kinds of games aren’t going to come around very often. We’re hellbent we’re going to go and enjoy it to start with.
“We’re going to get excited by the occasion and look forward to doing whatever we can on Saturday to really put our game plan out there and to show Saracens and that crowd and every single individual that they’ve got, that actually we’ve got a few things to offer and we’ve got a few things we want to challenge them with.
“But we’re under no illusions of how tough that task is, regardless of what team they put out. It’s going to be a tough challenge but it’s one we’re absolutely dead excited to get on with.”
It is the third meeting between the two sides this season after home-and-away friendly matches before the 2021 Championship season kicked off.
Coventry were competitive in both games but Saracens, who were without many of their headline players due to their Six Nations commitments, came out on top in both games.
Winter believes those experiences were beneficial but is focusing more on what Coventry are capable of, rather than their opponents.
“We went away to Saracens and after 60 minutes we were winning the game,” he said. “But that was very much a Saracens Storm side, lacking the 10 to 15 internationals and the handful of British Lions, there was only one or two in there.
“We know it’s a completely different outfit. It’s a league game. They need one more win to secure their top two position, especially with Doncaster playing Ealing, if they get Saturday right, they should be able to rest up in the final week.
“From our point of view, it’s more about what can we do, we learned some lessons from pre-season, they’re a side you need to respect, but they’re a side we can’t pay too much respect to because we want to go and deliver what we want to do.
“You can list off the names of the Farrells, the Itojes, the Dalys, the Georges, the Vunipolas and get a bit star-struck and not play rugby. We’ve worked really hard this week and the last few weeks about just being Coventry, that’s what we’re best at. Hopefully that will come through on Saturday and we will give them a good go.”
The match will also be the first at the Butts Park Arena in nearly 15 months to have fans in attendance with around 1,400 expected to attend.
Winter added: “How many times in your career do you get the chance to try out everything we do and everything we work towards against some of the best in the game? So take that opportunity, test yourself. We play this game, and we coach this game, for tests and challenges. It is a game at the end of the day, it’s a competition, what better opportunity to have on Saturday, literally it will get another five, ten, 20 per cent out of every player and every person.”
COVENTRY: 15 Louis Brown; 14 Rob Stevenson, 13 Will Butt, 12 Will Owen, 11 Sam Aspland-Robinson; 10 Tony Fenner, 9 Joe Snow; 1 Toby Trinder, 2 Jordon Poole, 3 Phil Boulton, 4 Nile Dacres, 5 Adam Peters, 6 Sam Lewis, 7 Ben Nutley, 8 Ryan Burrows (capt).
Replacements: 16 Sam McNulty, 17 Luc Jeannot, 18 Alex Gibson, 19 Alex Woolford, 20 Jack Ram, 21 Pete White, 22 Evan Mitchell, 23 Rob Knox.
SARACENS: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Alex Lewington, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Owen Farrell (capt), 9 Aled Davies; 1 Mako Vunipola, 2 Jamie George, 3 Alec Clarey, 4 Maro Itoje, 5 Tim Swinson, 6 Jackson Wray, 7 Sean Reffell, 8 Billy Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Tom Woolstencroft, 17 Ralph Adams-Hale, 18 Josh Ibuanokpe, 19 Callum Hunter-Hill, 20 Andy Christie, 21 Tom Whiteley, 22 Dom Morris, 23 Rotimi Segun.
For information on watching the match via a live stream, click here.