Jackson Wray says that matches like these bring the best out of the group, as Saracens Men prepare for their enormous final against Ealing Trailfinders on Sunday.
The Men in Black travel to Trailfinders Sports Club for the first leg of the Championship Play-Off Final, knowing that a big performance is required as they continue their pursuit of a return to the Premiership.
The starting line-up features 12 internationals for the biggest match of the season so far, with a significant amount of experience ready to take on the Trailfinders.
There are two changes to the side that produced a ruthless display in the 73-0 win over Coventry in May, both coming in the forwards.
Vincent Koch returns at tighthead, back after serving a one-match ban to join Mako Vunipola and Jamie George in the front-row.
Maro Itoje and Tim Swinson continue their partnership in the second-row while Michael Rhodes is back at blindside having recovered from an injury that has kept him out since April.
Jackson Wray and Billy Vunipola complete an experienced pack that last played together in the Champions Cup semi-final against Racing 92 in Paris back in September of last year.
Aled Davies and Owen Farrell renew their half-back pairing, the latter looking to add to the 73 points he has accumulated so far this season with the chance to become the league’s top points scorer very much in his sights.
The in-form midfield pairing of Nick Tompkins and Elliot Daly also continue, the Welshman boosted by an international call-up this week for their summer series.
And an exciting back three of Sean Maitland, Alex Lewington and Alex Goode will be relishing the chance to put Sarries in a dominant position in the first leg.
On the bench there is a five-three split that offers plenty of attacking options including Tom Whiteley, Rotimi Segun and the returning Duncan Taylor.
Wray says that the squad are raring to go for Sunday’s play-off in West London. “It’s a massive occasion and it’s the one that we wanted. It’s been a long build up and the longest pre-season ever but it’s finally here which is massively exciting.”
“We’ve got two weeks to dig in and we tend to build well in to these kind of games. This week has felt like we’re in that really focused mindset and we’re thriving on it. Ealing are a very good side who do the basics really well so we know it will be a difficult challenge but it’s the biggest game of the season and everyone brings their best to these games.”
Leicester Tigers head coach, Dan McKellar said: “The group, players and staff were on the go for 23 weeks straight so getting away from the game for a period was really beneficial and we’ve come back in enthused for this challenge this week.
“Ealing are a team full of experience and quality, so we’ll have to be at our best to get the result we want, on a big day for the likes of Hanro and Finn.
“It’s fitting that Hanro leads us on his 100th game. He carried a lot of the leadership burden during the World Cup and continues to be someone the boys can count on to lead with his actions.”
Scott MacLeod is returning to Newcastle Falcons as line-out coach, with the former Scotland lock on board until at least the end of the season.
The Hawick native spent 11 years with the Falcons, making 61 appearances as a player before joining the coaching team in 2016.
Having departed Kingston Park last summer MacLeod will now return to impart his expertise, combining coaching commitments with working for his family’s business in the Scottish Borders.
Newcastle Falcons’ consultant director of rugby Steve Diamond said: “Scott is a well-respected line-out specialist who can help us make some big gains in that area between now and the end of the season.
“He knows and loves the club, he’s very well regarded here and I’m looking forward to getting him back involved.
“We’ve initially said it’s until the end of the season and I know Scott has other business commitments, but if it works well for both parties over the next few months then we’ll be happy to look at extending it beyond that.”
Capped 24 times by Scotland in a playing career which also saw him starring for Border Reivers, Edinburgh, Scarlets, Kobelco Steelers and Newcastle, the set-piece specialist is relishing the prospect of reinvigorating the Falcons’ line-out during the remainder of the season.
MacLeod said: “Our line-out has consistently been in the top four of the Premiership over the past few years, so hopefully I can come in and help get us back up there.
“I’ve been watching the games from afar this season because Newcastle Falcons is still a big part of my life, even though I’ve not been personally involved since the summer. I just want to come in and make a positive difference, get us back to where we should be and help the boys.”
Having spent more than a decade at Kingston Park as a player and coach, MacLeod insisted the opportunity to return was just too good to pass up.
“I’ve missed the place a lot,” said the 44-year-old.
“I’m now working for my family’s business, MacLeod Glass, up in Hawick, but I’m sure any sportsperson will tell you they miss being in and around that team environment. It’s certainly very different going from a Premiership rugby club to working in a factory every day, and it’s been a shock to the system.
“I’ll now get to combine both, and I’ve missed being involved with the professional game. I’ve been coaching my son’s S2 side to get my rugby fix, but I’m buzzing to be back with the Falcons. It’s a really special club for me.”
Setting out with one clear aim, the Scot said: “I just want us to get our identity back.
“I’ll come in, assess our strengths and our weaknesses and come up with a plan accordingly. I know some of the players really well and I don’t know others at all, but luckily with us having this big break before our next game it’s absolutely ideal timing for getting things in place.
“One thing you have to bear in mind with Newcastle is how bad the weather is, in terms of how much you can push it in the line-out, but I just want to get the confidence back into the boys.
“It’s about simple things being done well on a consistent basis, and I’m starting this week to help put it in motion.
“I’ve got a few weeks to get to know the guys I’ve not worked with before, see how it all ties in with the lads I already know and then knit it all together into a game plan which works best for the team.
“As I say, I just want us to have that Newcastle Falcons identity again when it comes to the line-out, and I’m really positive about things. We’ll see how it works between now and the end of the season, and if everyone’s happy then we can see where it goes.”
Newcastle Falcons’ next home game is against Leicester Tigers on Good Friday (March 29), with tickets on sale for the 7.45pm kick-off by clicking here.