We are a week out from the start of the season and I can imagine players, coaches and supporters alike are jumping up and down eager to get the first game under way.
Since my last blog, we (the Harlequins) have been to the South of France for a pre-season training camp, playing Castres on a balmy evening in St Affrique (a town which appeared to be 2 and a half hours from everywhere, well at least according to the cab driver who drove me from Toulouse airport!).
The match was part of the Armand Vaquerin Challenge, to celebrate the life of the former Toulon and France prop, who bizarrely killed himself in a game of Russian Roulette. The locals really go to town for the event, which is usually spread over three venues, and the hospitality is first class.
With most of our international tourists left behind in Guildford, a largely second string side gave a full strength Castres team a run for their money, despite the score line going against us.
Back on home soil last weekend, the squad enjoyed two good hit outs against London Scottish and Connacht, recording convincing victories in both games. What was most pleasing was that the areas we had been working on during the summer, were really evident. I mentioned to you all in my first blog that we are a huge believer in small-sided games at the club.
Games which place great emphasis on players getting lots of touches on the ball, played at a relatively high tempo. At times on the weekend, the opposition were unable to live with the pace that we played the game at, with players from 1 to 15, comfortable with a high tempo, offloading game.
We fully understand as a coaching unit, that this type of rugby will not always work and teams will try to stop the speed of the ball by slowing down the ruck, but if we keep striving to be better and stay ahead of the opposition then we have a decent chance of succeeding. Whatever your preferred playing style and philosophy, it is so important as a coaching group that you stick to it and get a buy in from all concerned.
There is no doubt that when you lose games, and lose games you will, you will all start to question what you are doing. The players need to see unity and consistency from the management, whatever the result on game day.
Good luck to you all, as you start out on the season. I hope the passion and enthusiasm are still there come April, only some 40 weeks away!
By: Mark Mapletoft, Harlequins Coach