As much as I love the game, I never thought I would be so relieved for the season to start. After what, for obvious reasons, has been a pretty tough summer off the field at Bath Rugby, we all just want to get out there and do what we actually came to do.
However hard one trains in the off-season, the first few games are utterly vile. In all the years I have been playing I have never yet found a way to adequately prepare the lungs and neck for the first league run-out. Spend all the time in the gym you want, put in the extra running sessions at Saturday morning Fat Club (I am a founding member) but that muscle burn – the one you imagined was reserved only for attempts on Everest – will hit you and it will stay with you.
The day after won't be very nice either; try walking the dogs and playing with the kids a few hours after a car crash and you will see what I mean. With this in mind, I am extremely glad our first match is at Kingsholm today. Gloucester is enemy territory without doubt but with hostility and confrontation comes adrenaline. It is the hope that this potent and almost unexplainable match-day cocktail of excitement, fear, aggression and pressure will be powerful enough that fatigue doesn't have time to arrive and establish its presence in our muscles and minds. Fatigue makes cowards of men and we don't have time for all that. Both teams will run out with points to prove today.
We at Bath have to reprogramme our image in the minds of the public while Gloucester will be hellishly keen to discard for good their reputation as nearly men. Whatever the motivation, this promises to be another brutal encounter between two bitter rivals. In truth, we don't all hate one another off the field, I might even call one or two of them friends (nobody tell Gareth Chilcott I said that) but when that whistle blows we begin to fight for more than just Premiership points. We fight for the history and for the future of our great clubs, and no quarter is given.
Joining that fight will be some new and exciting names. We have been lucky over the summer to acquire the services of Ben Skirving, Matt Carraro, Davey Wilson and Julian Salvi, with Luke Watson en route.
The first four are likely to feature today and we expect great things from them having been seriously impressed with their performances in the trial matches. Gloucester welcome the relentless and punishing boot of Nicky Robinson from Cardiff as well as an old friend of ours, Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, the hot-stepping, über-talented Samoan who, as luck would have it, happens to be built like a tighthead prop. Life just gets easier.
Combine Gloucester's new boys with the experience of guys like Carlos Spencer and Greg Somerville and it is easy to see what a threat they pose to all who travel to Kingsholm. But our job is not to worry about them. If we do that then we had better be ready to chase shadows. We need to be clear on exactly what our coach Steve Meehan's plan is and how we are to execute it. In other words, we need to be professional.
When we have the ball we need to do as we planned, with precision and power, and when they are in possession we need to defend like a pack of wild dogs. Doesn't it all sound simple? What we ask at Bath is to be in the hat when the play-offs come round. Yes, we have all sorts of points to prove but those days are far ahead. First we must deal with the challenge that lies at our feet. A nice friendly catch-up at Kingsholm.
Sinner Dylan is top pick by Saints
Outside of Bath, the team I am most interested to watch is Northampton. Word from the camp (fraternising with the enemy, what would the old boys say?) is that pre-season training has been savage but has primed them for the battle that is the Premiership. They are a club stacked with talent and I believe Franklin's Gardens will be a very difficult place to win.
Jim Mallinder's choice of Dylan Hartley as captain is interesting. Some have been critical of Hartley in the past and were less than enthusiastic about his appointment, but I just cannot agree. Certainly, he lives on the wild side. He seems to occasionally see red and give the odd penalty away but it wouldn't be much fun to play against him, would it?
He is a front-row forward who brings solidity in the tight and a fearlessness and aggression that cannot be coached into the timid. He is an outright first-choice player and a telling choice as leader. This is a team looking to push limits, to test the opposition physically every week with the skipper leading by example.
No easy games now...honestly!
Back in the late 1990s, we all used to lie to journalists. "There are no easy games these days," we used to say. Of course there were. Now, however, spot the walkover. Our first five weeks, the games that should – through common decency if nothing else – serve to ease us back into the fold, are against Gloucester, Wasps, Sale, Leicester and Harlequins.
This competition is now truly a competition. Out of the mix will spring Leicester, perennial favourites. They achieve this status through being the most consistently successful side of recent times. They will, despite Friday's narrow defeat, provide benchmarks in ruthlessness and the handling of pressure and it is the job of the other clubs to match them.
London Irish and Quins will also prove hard to stop this season. They are two very strong squads coming off seasons where it didn't quite happen for them. This gives top players that extra ounce of motivation, that extra yard of pace and that desire to, above all else, not lose like that again.Reuse content