Living the continental life. Car dropped off for a service, cafe Macchiato ordered, flip flops on, Ulster Rugby Shorts on (available from https://www.ulsterrugbyshop.com/teamshop/ulsterrugby). So what to do? Yup write a quick blog post.
What a year of Rugby. Loves me a Lions tour! I will defend the relevance of it till the cows come home, and the creation of a women's tour! It doesn't give the tourists a huge amount of time to get back to it though.
In the Pro 12 (14) the teams are back at in Pre-season. It seems from their social media feeds that Glasgow have been in Pre-season the whole of the summer whilst Ulster are now into week 3. The expansion of the Pro 12 (14) to include two South African teams has spilt the supporters of the league. Arguments for include 'more rugby' and better standard. Arguments against are longer season and longer away days! The cost will be huge. Reports indicate that the Pro 12 (14) teams have had their budgets increased by £500,000. Not shabby. I am on the fence and whilst I am hopeful that it works out, I am not openly convinced, yet.
Leinster have been hit with a huge injury list post Lions. Ringrose and Sexton reportedly out for a considerable amount of time. I wish them them back quickly but sustainable and not rushed.
Munster fans are still very upset about their coach leaving and the manner in which this seems to have happened. Whatever happens at Munster you can't write off their presence on the pitch. Definitely a club with a different persona on and off.
Not a lot of news about Connaught which is surprising really. The last time they were this quiet they dominated the Pro 12! The talisman John Muldoon is staying for his 14th season and Kiwi Jared Butler will join the province at the end of the Super Rugby season.
Ulster gave three players to the Lions and have upgraded the back room team to include Welshman Dwayne Peel. The loss of the saint, messiah, should be knighted, Ruan Pienaar will already be effecting Preseason. Ulster's 9's will need to up their game this season. Fingers crossed.
I feel that Edinburgh may be the surprise package this season. Ex Tiger Richard Cockerill has been drilling the guys and in a recent interview made a big deal about the little things off the pitch and how that translates on to it. With his eye for detail and his notorious Mourinho style interviews this may be the season to start to watch Edinburgh!
The Welsh regions are not in desperate trouble regardless of what some social media accounts may say. Rugby is still very special in Wales and the regions can still grow. Realistic expectations are needed. If you compare England (1809 registered clubs) and Wales (250) you can clearly see the divide. The wealth in cash terms of Rugby compared to Wales is considerably higher, and yet they still manage to upset their noisy neighbours in the Six Nations. The reported loss of the famous Welsh derby under a two tier system will hit WRU finances with the loss of Judgement Day. This would be wrong from a Rugby standpoint and I would fully support Welsh fans in venting their anger at this.
The Scots had a mixed Summer tour. Beating the Aussies in Sydney then losing to Fiji. Not the auspicious rise to 4th they thought. The initial rating of 4th in the world was dropped to 5th after an error was noted. They are now 6th.
Fiji, Japan, Georgia and Tonga all sit above the Italian side now headed up by Ex Quin Conor O'Shea. The Italian sides, Treviso and Zebre are capable of upsetting the bigger Pro 12 (14) sides but they consistently underperform. I suspect no change this season. I hope to be wrong.
As ever the league is set to upset people and be mocked by the Aviva and the Top 14. We have the players and we have the support. Make yourselves heard this year. Get to a grassroots game, support your region, province or club. Make noise, spend Euros and Pounds but most of all get ready for the friendliest sideline support you'll find.