Whilst all of the RaboDirect Pro12 squads are deep into pre-season –flipping bags and screaming through delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) –they were today handed a timely reminder of what all the sweat and pain is for.
This morning saw the publication of the fixture list for the 2012/13 season. Now coaches and senior players know exactly which opponents they are fighting towards on their opening day, either the 31st of August or the 1/2 of September.
At Edinburgh this means preparing for the creaking war-horse of Munster at Murrayfield.
Not the force they have previously been, Munster will want to show that they still have a lot of fight in them. Last year Edinburgh defeated Munster at home, thanks to some tidy work from Matt Scott and the boot of Greig Laidlaw. Will history repeat itself?
Munster know that their strength has always come from the pack, and Edinburgh head coach Michael Bradley, a Munsterman himself, has a healthy respect for the side. “Munster have consistently been one of the top teams in Europe so to face them at home in the season opener is a fantastic challenge, and one which the players and fans will relish,” he said.
Edinburgh also have Munster in their Heineken Cup group, which means regular attrition for the capital side.
If Edinburgh are to overcome a side with a history of snuffing out games at the death then they must capitalise on scoring chances and pull away from them, particularly at home. The challenge for new forwards coach Neil Back is to continue Edinburgh’s improvement whilst also ensuring that his pack do not crack late on, both in games and in terms of a full season.
At Glasgow, who will also want to improve on last season’s play-off showing, it is a case of adding attack to their stern defence.
Opening their season away to Ulster is tough. The Ulstermen were hammered in the Heineken Cup final, but have retained many of their players as well as adding the likes of Tommy Bowe and Roger Wilson. They are fearsome when in the mood to spoil and if Glasgow do not add more of an attacking edge then the opening round could turn into a slugfest at Ravenhill.
New head coach Gregor Townsend has made noises about the opportunities and improvements that can come at Glasgow. With a change to their already successful defensive coaching team (Shade Munro and Townsend are currently running the defensive side), it is a big ask for the team to repeat last season’s rear-guard heroics. On the attacking side, many of the marquee Warriors’ signings have come in the pack, although much pressure will fall on the shoulders of the Lamont brothers and Stuart Hogg to create tries.
It will be interesting to see if a brand new attacking system takes off under Townsend –and is successful. If not they always have the stifling plan B and enough grit to erode Everest.
It should be an interesting season, if the hype around Scotland’s sides is to be believed.
Improvement is the watchword and ambition is oozing out of EH12. CEO Mark Dodson may not have strictly made any grand predictions for either pro side, but the fans expect, now.
Here are the opening Rabo fixtures:
Round 1 – 31 August/1/2 September
Benetton Treviso v Ospreys
Connacht v Cardiff Blues
Edinburgh Rugby v Munster
Newport Gwent Dragons v Zebre
Scarlets v Leinster
Ulster v Glasgow Warriors
Round 2 – 7/8/9 September
Cardiff Blues v Edinburgh Rugby
Glasgow Warriors v Scarlets
Leinster v Newport Gwent Dragons
Munster v Benetton Treviso
Ospreys v Ulster
Zebre v Connacht