Sunday, December 5

The start of the Premiership is a moment like no other for offensive and optimistic rugby | Premiership


BAdvertising news for the most loving Premiership players on the eve of the new season: Head-to-head try celebrations are still banned. Fans can re-fill stadiums, no Covid passports needed, but pity the silly paddlers who want a post-match hug. Welcome to the contradictory world of modern sport.

It’s not about poking holes in protocols or pointing fingers at administrators, but rather illustrating the difficulties in charting the cumbersome route to normalcy. Clubs can look forward to the new season with optimism and, at the same time, fear what another wave might entail when fall turns into winter.

Even defining the “normality” that clubs are fighting for is no easy task and there is a feeling that this will be a decisive season. Knowing for months that there will be no relegation, the 13 clubs have the opportunity to express themselves, although Wasps, who has the first bye, must wait another week. There may be too much of a good thing, but surely the Harlequins’ exciting race to the Premiership title is the model, rather than the boring food offered by the British & Irish Lions and South Africa.

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The new lawsuits filed this season appear to be designed to help, but these adjustments have a habit of producing unintended consequences, so the jury is out for now. Brexit, the financial impact of the pandemic, a lower salary cap and, of course, no declines, have combined to ensure this is not a season for star signings to light up the Premiership. The hope must be that ambition takes hold, that clubs realize the direction of travel is far from turgid heavyweight clashes in the context of the potential head injury lawsuit facing the sport.

If that materializes, if clubs embrace a duty to entertain, relegation is unlikely in the long run to return after their hiatus and the expectation is that it would benefit Eddie Jones and England. Jones has an early opportunity to gauge progress (England will hold a training camp at the end of the month) that he imagines the rugby managers are not thrilled, even if the lineup between the club and the country is supposedly improving. But if the clubs play with intention, surely the responsibility of England to do the same is greater.

In the short term, it could also have a material benefit for the clubs because the owners will be nervously awaiting assistance for the next few weeks. Bristol expects around 20,000 at Ashton Gate for Friday night’s opening act against the returning Saracens, while Leicester, traditionally the best-supported club in the country, will expect a decent crowd on Welford Road on Saturday.

Those are welcome numbers given how dependent clubs are on matchday income, but attendance in the first week or two is likely to be lower than it was two seasons ago. There are extenuating reasons: some clubs didn’t start selling tickets until later than usual, others traditionally start the season slowly before interest rises. But anecdotal evidence suggests that some fans are reluctant to attend mass events and an emphasis on attacking rugby would do no harm to persuade them.

Charles Piutau and Bristol get things started when the Saracens arrive in town.
Charles Piutau and Bristol get things started when the Saracens arrive in town. Photograph: David Rogers / Getty Images

To that end, there are reasons to be positive. The defending champs, the Harlequins, have a new coach in Tabai Matson, who is both in the enviable position of inheriting a title-winning team, with Marcus Smith set to further enhance his reputation, and in the impossible position of having to follow. the glories of last season. “In the later part of last year, Quins was very clear about his DNA,” Matson said. “They want to stay true to that. I want to lead in the way that they believe is their DNA and their style. “

It was also encouraging to hear Pat Lam insist that Bristol would hold its own, having finished atop the regular season table and taken a 28-0 semi-final lead against Harlequins, only to implode. “I honestly think we have a game that can beat any team,” he said. “What I depend on is the players to play that game. The way I want to play the game can achieve so much [entertaining and winning]. “

They will be tested by the Saracens, who look exhausted with Owen Farrell, Jamie George, Maro Itoje, Mako Vunipola and Elliot Daly resting after their Lions efforts, but they are never better than when they play with a point to prove. You feel like that’s where they are on their return to the Premiership.

Their playing model, and indeed Exeter’s, can be criticized, but both have been successful in the past and neither club is likely to change much this season. After a positive start under a new administration, Sale and Leicester can also enter that group.

Then there is the stretch of clubs looking to sneak into the top four. Bath, with Danny Cipriani at the helm, Gloucester, Northampton, Wasps, London Irish, Newcastle and Worcester, all of whom no longer need to look over their shoulders, to prepare not to lose and get results. The harlequins have shown that the rewards are there and the risks have been largely eliminated. And with an uncertain winter looming, there is no time like the present.


www.theguardian.com

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