Doncaster Knights will not be making special plans for Saracens says Steve Boden
In the eyes of Doncaster Knights’ head coach Steve Boden, it does not make any difference to him if Saracens bring all their England contingent to Castle Park on Saturday or none at all: it will not alter how his side play.
The very fact they are actually playing is something to behold; the South Yorkshire club has not been in action since March 14 when the coronavirus brought the last Championship season to a shuddering halt.
It was at that point that Boden stepped up from forwards coach to take over from the departing Clive Griffiths but with the 2020-21 campaign still yet to start – he has had to wait 10 months just to take charge of a game.
The Trailfinders Cup, a hastily-arranged round-robin competition initiated by Ealing Trailfinders and including relegated giants Saracens and Doncaster, has, then, given them something to look forward to ahead of the league kick-off on March 6.
Ealing, who hope to force their way into the Premiership at the end of the term despite Saracens’ being massive favourites, opened matters with a stunning 27-26 win over the demoted former European champions on Saturday.
Admittedly, Saracens – relegated because of persistent salary cap breaches – fielded a relatively youthful team; No 8 Billy Vunipola was their only England star included as he gained game-time ahead of the Calcutta Cup match against Scotland on February 6.
No one expects to see the likes of Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje or Jamie George head north to Castle Park this weekend but Boden is not worried about second-guessing who they will face.
The 38-year-old told The Yorkshire Post: “We’re just really happy to be back playing rugby.
“If they put their internationals out, then we’ll go as hard as we can. If they put out a young , ambitious side, like us, then we’re going to go as hard as we can.
“There’ll be plenty to work on coming out of this game.
“Working out their team is the last thing on my mind; Saracens could put out three sides that can compete with everyone in this league. I could honestly try and prepare for five different teams and actually be prepared for none of them!
“What we have done is get some critical outcomes that we want to try and achieve and we’ll measure our performance on the back of those.
“We’ll look at what is going well for us and what will be a huge work-on. If we’re brutally honest, after the game, we’ll have more work-ons than anything else.
“But that’s fine. Sarries and Ealing are massively well-financed and big organisations compared to us. But they’re ready to play and the next step for us was to go to a full-contact game.
“Ideally, you’d like to play someone who’s not just been European champions and – in Ealing – a club vying to go to the Premiership, in your first two outings!
“But it’s a test to see where we are and that’s all we’re using it as: pre-season games, looking at performances and growing them week to week.”
Boden has hugely overhauled the Knights squad, with an emphasis on talented and hard-working younger players who all aim to one day reach the Premiership themselves.
He feels that was needed after some disappointing campaigns of late and the former Yorkshire Carnegie chief admitted: “It is really exciting. What I am excited about is hopefully seeing a new start, a new foundation to work off, which isn’t really built on technical and tactical ability.
“Last year and in recent years we’ve lost games or had poor performances through stuff that had nothing to do with technical or tactical ability. It was more to do with desire, hunger, ambition, key things I want to see.”
Having significantly driven down the squad’s average age while also working to a much smaller budget, he added: “For me, ambition drives standards.
“That’s my biggest thing; younger people have the ambition to try and kick on in their careers. We’re not offering life-changing money; we’re offering them an opportunity to be well-coached and a chance to kick on in their careers. We see it as a success if we develop people onto the next level. The lads I have got here all want to play Premiership. I’m not saying you can’t do it if you’re not ambitious to get somewhere.
“For example, we’re really lucky in that we have some great guys like Matt Challinor who, let’s be brutally honest, I don’t think he’s going to be going to the Premiership next year. He’s 35.
“But his own personal pride and standards are a rare breed for those sort of people.”
There was plenty of kicking in Saracens’ last match but Boden said: “We can’t get into that.
“Kicking is a massive part of rugby union these days but I don’t want to kick the leather off the ball and win 3-0. We want to show our hand a little bit and see what we can do with the ball.
“That’s what will stand us in good stead come sixth of March.”
Doncaster fans, only able to watch from afar via live streams, will certainly concur with that – regardless of the opponents.