So it's back to the rugby treadmill once more. The same old quotes follow the same old questions at press sessions around the circuit. Every interviewee seems to think his side's opening fixture is as tough as it gets but still, somehow, feels confident of victory.
The aim appears to be aggressively neutral; never defeatist but never too macho either.
The thing is, the players are not lying. Twelve years ago, no matter what anybody said then, there were easier games. As the only non-international in a star-studded Saracens team, the week's preparation for Bedford at home was notably more relaxed than the week before against Wasps. We knew we would win, and we were right. But these days one would do well to spot an easy game.
Today we face Leeds at Headingley. "Tough one, hey?" one reporter commented yesterday. What was I ever going to say to that? "Yes, I'd far rather have drawn Maidstone Under-8s, you know, to warm up on and boost the old confidence." Wherever the draw lands us, I am sure all the players in the Aviva Premiership (has a nice ring, that, though perhaps not as catchy as, say, the Twix Premiership – we can dream) are just gagging to get out there. This is, after all, our job, so now it just feels like time to work again.
Pre-season is a particularly unrewarding time of year for the rugby player; all that hard yakka with very little to look forward to at the end of each week (unless, like me, you are lucky enough to have Saturday morning sessions too, due to a malfunctioning set of weighing scales). As much as saying it makes me want to cut out my own tongue, Stan Collymore was right: life feels empty when the buzz of the weekend's big match is removed. Granted, we do not all try to fill this void in countryside car parks; instead we just visualise the nice, sunny day when all our graft becomes worth it and we get to compete once more.
This week has been a great one. As official morale officers, myself and my hooker Pieter Dixon have ensured that while high temperatures made each session feel like a desert marathon, the boys have been smiling throughout. This is not to say it has been a lighthearted few days, far from it. The intensity has risen, "touch" has turned, in a moment, into full contact and the hits have been raining in.
There are points to prove as ever but, in between plays as we walk back to position, the banter is flowing. On Thursday I heard Luke Watson giggling. When I asked him what was so funny he said: "For such a big guy you have tiny little feet, Flats. Makes me laugh every time I look at them." For the record, these tiny feet are a size 11. "No mate," I reply, "I just have big calves which make them look smaller." Between breaths he cuts me down, "Whatever, mate, they look ridiculous." With that all the gorillas joined in the grunting before binding up and going again.
As the session ends, most of the older guys drift off while the younger, less sore squad members (and Danny Grewcock) stay out to do extra drills. The good news is that props seem to be so precious these days that we are personally escorted to the drinks area, sat down and told to relax by the medical staff. Wrapped in cotton wool; I would have it no other way.
It is normal to see the goal-kickers still out there knocking a few over as the rest of us head off to lunch in our cars, but there seems to be a new trend in the west: topless kicking. Olly Barkley sees these times not only as necessary training but also as an opportunity to save a few quid on sunbeds, unlike Sam Vesty who, with all the skin tone of a shaved cat, prefers to practise his technique at midnight.
I often wonder what people would say if we forwards decided to remove our jerseys for a scrummaging session. Nowhere to bind, I hear you bark, but any of you who have seen Duncan Bell and David Barnes in the flesh will agree there is plenty of scope for purchase. There would be outrage, not to mention vomit all over the passenger seats of passing cars.
We simply sweat on jealously, cursing the laws of genetics as we go. Perhaps the scrum sled is just the wrong arena for a new kind of manly expression; maybe the dull, samey, weekly press conference is the place that needs brightening up a little. Whether it is or it isn't, it has to be worth a try, if only for the sanity of the poor journos who travel for hours to hear the same old lines. Let's give them something to look at, then, and maybe a complimentary sick bag just in case.Reuse content