Constantly pushing the boundaries to see what our bodies can take; Our speed, strength, agility, stamina, pushed to the limit whilst trying to think clearly under pressure; we call this time of year pre-season training.
Some embrace it, others just want to get it out of the way, but they know that come the business end of the season, when they need the extra energy and strength to cope, they can dig deep and it will be there. Nowadays, rugby is built around small margins and these are as existent in both grassroots and pro rugby. One part of the game that must not, and will not change at any level, is the camaraderie. Bonds built and friendships made along the way are why many play the game and another reason why we can’t wait for the new season.
It's a Game of Three Halves
Coming off the 7’s circuit and into 15’s, the beginning of the season tends to lean towards hard pitches, which can produce fast open rugby, suiting those players with speed and pace to burn.
As we turn the corner into November / December the weather deteriorates and games become more forward orientated, which many view as our natural game.
Then towards the end of season as we move into spring / summer the harder pitches return – most of the time anyway.
The weather plays a huge role and it’s what makes our game in this country so varied and unpredictable. Yet, nowadays we also throw artificial pitches into the equation, which adds another surface and style of play into the mix. Rugby is not only a game for all sizes it’s a game for all seasons.
With a thrilling end to last season, which saw Exeter Chiefs lift the Premiership Trophy, we’re likely to witness another exciting season in the English top flight. Over the years this league has become one of the toughest in world rugby; and although a bit of a cliche, there genuinely are no easy games.
Bristol learnt the hard way with relegation, having only been promoted the previous season. London Irish now take up that mantle of new boys and will find it tough but they’ve used their time wisely in the Championship to regroup and re-build. A strengthening of the squad over the summer should enable them to beat the drop.
At the top of the table, the likes of Wasps and Leicester will be looking to build on their positive seasons last year, and I predict Harlequins could be a force to be reckoned with.
Down the other end I fear though for Worcester. They flirted with relegation yet managed to secure their place last season but it’s going to be another long season for them and for me they’re the side that could well be found relegated come end of the season.
Well, this is a completely different looking league, with two South African teams being added into the mix. I can't wait to see how the new conference system works and how the Lions and Cheetahs fit in to the Northern Hemisphere style of rugby. They'll definitely bring a bit of extra quality to the league but It would be a shame for one of them to win it in their first season. We wait in great anticipation.
Premiership A league
I'm so pleased to see this league given a new lease of life and if you haven’t experienced or watched it before, I would highly recommend you check out a game near you. It will be formed into two pools, one of 6 teams in the North and 7 in the South East and you’ll see a mix of rising stars, academy boys and also experienced 1st XV premiership players, gaining some valuable game time. Over time if this league can engage with Clubs and the supporting public, then it will provide a great platform for the Premiership. Although the biggest fear is where does the future lie for the Championship?
No play-off system this year, which will change things a little. Often the breeding ground for many premiership players, this league has now become haves and have not’s. Some clubs are able to run a full professional set- up whilst for others, semi-professional status is the norm. Clubs like Richmond who have worked their way back up the leagues, took the brave step to remain completely amateur and while at first they found the task enormous, the club's experience and stature has grown.
It's going to be tough on and off the pitch for many of the Championship clubs, as the financial restraints bite in and could yet see others returning to full amateur status, just to survive.
National and Regional Leagues
The grassroots of our great game relies on a support network that many other sports would die for. The friendships born along the way and social camaraderie remain a huge aspect of grassroots rugby. Many supporters will travel to away games and enjoy friendly hospitality show by the home team and players alike.
Best of luck to all grassroots clubs this season; I wish you a prosperous, and more importantly, an enjoyable season!
Why We Love the Game
From Professional leagues to the sport’s grassroots the ethos and values need to remain and it’s up to each and every one of us who plays and supports rugby to set those standards. Rugby is a big family and whether you play for your local 1St XV, Vets, Heavies Youth, Mini’s or professional leagues fun and enjoyment should always be at the centre of why we play or coach. I certainly can’t wait for new season!