David Flatman: We're just like Special Forces but that's all I can tell you

From the Front Row: Pre-season training is just a time for tactics – the real interest only begins when the results roll in
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The Independent Online

I think all interviews with the press should be banned during pre-season training. I know, I know, the interviewers have a job to do and we, the players, are the subject but still, they remain a pretty pointless exercise.

The thing is, every team seems to be world-beaters before a tackle had been made or a scrummage engaged. "Training has been tough and the boys are in great shape. Team spirit is excellent." This is your standard summer answer.

I should know; I was dishing it out just yesterday when I caught myself and, after a moment of painful self-awareness, apologised to the sleepy-looking man holding the dictaphone.

You see, pre-season training doesn't count. Of course, it is a vital part of the rugby player's year as it prepares one's body for another brutal, unremitting campaign, but nobody really cares. Sport is, after all, about results and standings. This means that pre-season training is put firmly in the bracket of "unseen work". Much like the Special Forces, we spend time in the war room piecing together tactics and techniques before heading out to the ground and practising it over and over again.

Unlike the Special Forces, though, we then tell anyone who will listen just how well prepared we are for the job ahead. A mantra by which these elite guys exist is: "Don't shout about your work. Know how to function." Lovely stuff.

Despite all 12 teams apparently being in the shape of their lives, only one will win the league (can I still call it the league?). And when they do, the training they've been doing over the last 10 weeks or so will seem a distant memory. However, the graft that all the men at all the clubs have put into the bank will serve to form the building blocks for what we all hope will be our year. It also serves, with the bigger picture in mind, to continue the evolution of our beloved game. As we get fitter the game gets faster and decisions carry more weight year on year. It's actually wonderful to be part of it, if only for a short time.

Looking forward to what promises to be a very interesting season, I think Saracens will remain the team to beat. Over the last decade or so we've seen Wasps and Leicester really dominate our domestic scene but the men from Watford (soon to be Barnet, if the rumours are to be believed) broke the spell last season.

Yes, Sale popped up and won the league in 2006, but then they lost so many good men to the likes of Toulon and Racing Métro that a repetition looked immediately unlikely. Saracens, though, seem more settled than that. In my opinion, the rest of us need to keep one eye on them and work very hard to stop them becoming the new default champions of English rugby.

Northampton will be fierce again and we can all count on Leicester to grunt their way into the top four.

I predict that it will be riveting to watch Harlequins this season. They are a young team, full of energy, and they just love to bring a frenetic tempo to their games. Their statement seems to be "match our work-rate if you can," and with the likes of Chris Robshaw available throughout the Rugby World Cup, they will be tough to contain.

So long as nobody in black twists an ankle in New Zealand and Nick Evans doesn't find himself being welcomed in from the cold. Were I a Quin, I would be nicking his mobile phone and lobbing it into the Thames.

So it's all very exciting! I must say that, despite my relative weight and heat intolerance, I rather enjoy pre-season camp. Sure, it's horrid at times and there are sessions when you honestly don't know how you will get to the end, never mind doing it all again the next day. And the next.

But rugby is the same; there will be days when every ball bounces to hand, and others when a black hole in the ground is all that could help. We are conditioned for this, it is what we do. If in doubt, press on. Quietly, though.

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