Clubs have no excuse for failing to hurl themselves into the new season determined to make an early impact. Apart from any other consideration, they owe it to their fans to come out with all guns blazing and get the season off to a lively start. And they owe it to our game to make vital changes in their approaches and attitudes to the way they play in domestic competitions.
This time last year the clubs could be forgiven for going off half-cocked, because most of their best players were still recovering from a Lions tour that sapped strength and morale. It was at least late September before the teams began to acquire their full strength and fitness.
Now, they have had a good summer break. Everyone has had plenty of rest and recharging, so we have the right to expect a bunch of fresher and keener players producing flat-out and attractive rugby from the first game.
There is certainly an appetite for rugby's return. What with the football World Cup and all the other summer sporting attrac-tions, the game has taken a back seat for a couple of months. Not that we have been spared the usual club v country wranglings in England, and there was a long period of speculation before Rob Andrew was appointed El Supremo at Twickenham.
But the scene is set for a generous ration of top-class rugby, and I am really looking forward to seeing some exciting progress being made at club level in all the competitions.
We know before we start that there is going to be too much rugby and that players are going to be asked to play too many games but, moan as we may, it is not going to change. It is a fact of life that clubs are going to have to live with, and I am encouraged by the signs that they are learning to cope. Squads are being enlarged and made stronger in depth, and coaches seem to be getting more clued-up on how to manage their playing resources over a long campaign.
Inevitably, international demands will continue to take their toll, and there is the usual glut of big games against touring sides from the southern hemisphere during November.
That gives the clubs two months to occupy the centre stage and convince us that the quality of our game is on the upgrade. There's plenty of scope for improvement in both the Guinness Premiership and the Celtic League, which is now under the sponsorship of Magners cider.
Before the European challenge begins at the end of October we also have the EDF Energy Anglo-Welsh Cup, which is now in its second year and I hope will be taken more seriously by the English clubs.
What I will be looking for particularly is a fundamental change of style among both the English and the Celtic clubs. There's no doubt that England have been faltering at international level because their team reflect the negative approach that has gained the upper hand among the clubs. Power and intensity are vital ingredients at this level, but overconcentration on those facets of the game has led to the lack of adventurous spirit that has seriously weakened their attacking qualities. Discouraging individual initiative plays into the hands of southern-hemisphere teams, whose back divisions have far more explosive creativity.
The problem among the Magners League teams is almost exactly the opposite. The average game in that competition is crying out for a sharp increase in tempo and intensity. More skilled and adventurous football is being played but, week to week, it lacks the tempo and physicality needed when playing English or French teams.
Obviously, this is a generalisation. Munster won the Hein-eken Cup last year and will no doubt be serious contenders again, but what we need to see is an overall rise in standards that will ensure that every club game is played with higher pace and aggression.
Judging from the pre-season signs which have been emerging from Wales, and from the results in recent friendly matches, the Welsh regions are geared up for a much more successful campaign. Last season was the worst for the regions since they were formed in 2003. They flopped on all fronts.
But there has been much restrengthening during the summer, especially at the Ospreys, where the All Blacks Justin Marshall, Jono Gibbes and Filo Tiatia are among the new signings.
I have not noticed much significant transfer movement in the Premiership, where the power balance looks to remain the same. But if Jonny Wilkinson is really restored to full and lasting fitness it will add great interest.
More important is the style with which the clubs intend to enter the new season. If they get that right, I am sure we will be in for a super restart.Reuse content