It’s a massive game for Saracens, says Vunipola
ENGLAND forwards Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola are set to spearhead Saracens’ push for a place in this season’s Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals.
Lock Itoje returns for tomorrow’s Pool Three clash against Lyon after missing the last five games due to a knee injury. His comeback also gives England boss Eddie Jones a boost, with one of his key players featuring again just three weeks before the Guinness Six Nations begins.
Number eight Vunipola played against Premiership opponents Sale Sharks last week – a first appearance since breaking his arm during Saracens’ opening Champions Cup victory over Glasgow in October.
And the Test match stars are now reunited for a game that will see group leaders Saracens confirm a last-eight place if they win and Glasgow lose against Cardiff Blues.
But even if Saracens have to wait another week, they can make sure of qualification by defeating Allianz Park visitors Glasgow next weekend.
Vunipola and company return to Lyon, the French city where Saracens were crowned 2016 European champions, to face the only team in this season’s tournament still without a point.
“It’s a massive game,” Vunipola said. “When you win a Champions Cup or Premiership, the worst thing is that by the Sunday it’s done, and that’s it. You can’t carry on talking about it, saying ‘Oh, I remember back in my day’, because people just get bored of it.
“That’s the worst thing about winning cups. The next year, someone else is the champions.
“Leinster are (champions) now, and they are probably not thinking about Bilbao (where they beat Racing 92 in last season’s final) any more. So for us, hopefully, it is a stepping stone for bigger and better things this year.”
Saracens’ Premiership title rivals Exeter need to beat Castres at home tomorrow in their continued pursuit of a last-eight spot.
And the Chiefs welcome back England international Jack Nowell, who wears the number 15 shirt on his first appearance since suffering a hamstring injury during this season’s autumn Tests.
Newcastle must beat Montpellier in France this weekend, or their slim hopes of progressing from Pool Five will evaporate.
Newcastle rugby director Dean Richards told the Falcons’ official website: “We are going over with the mindset of giving it our best and going all out for the win. It will be a volatile atmosphere over there, it’s a different rugby culture.”
Saracens and England star Billy Vunipola