Saints set for relentless season at home and abroad
Week two of pre-season has just finished at Saints, and it’s fair to say that it’s very much the calm before the storm.
Fitness and weight training have taken precedence, along with basic drills.
Saints know they must avoid peaking too early with a long pre-season schedule ahead, and a truly gruelling campaign set to follow.
It may start with Premiership Rugby Cup pool stage matches, which will be played during the World Cup group stages, but when the Premiership kicks off in mid-October, there will be little respite.
With Saints back in the Champions Cup and unable to use the Challenge Cup to rest and rotate, it promises to be one of the most relentless seasons in memory.
And that is certainly not lost on the players.
“I don’t know what to make of all that really,” said flanker Tom Wood. “We’ve just got to deal with it because it’s not going to change.
“It does seem a bit of a strange structure. The four PRC games are up first and I guess we’ll use them as a warm-up for the season, but then there’s no opportunity to rotate until after Christmas.
“After those PRC games it’s going to be quite a big ask, especially for a fairly small squad.”
And how about those Champions Cup Pool 1 matches, against Leinster, Lyon and Benetton?
“It (the Champions Cup) is going to make a big difference because whereas last year we could rotate and mix things up against the likes of Timisoara Saracens and in the PRC, there’s not going to be any opportunity to do that,” Wood added.
“It’s going to be about how you manage your squad, all the normal challenges, and you’ve got to pray you don’t pick up too many injuries in the same position.
“It’s quite a long pre-season but once you’re into the season, you’re into it pretty fast.”
Wood signed a new contract at Saints last season.
And he is savouring being back in training at the Gardens ahead of the new campaign.
“I’m enjoying it and physically I feel in good shape,” said the 32-year-old. “I like the physical side of pre-season and I feel in a good place.
“We’ve obviously lost the likes of (James) Haskell from the back row so we’re going to have a fairly tight unit in that department.
“Hopefully Heinrich Brüssow can get himself fit and string some games together this season, then there’s myself, Teimana (Harrison), Jamie (Gibson) and Lewis (Ludlam) from the regulars of last season.
“There might be an opportunity for some youngsters to come through.”
So how are those youngsters and the more senior players at Saints looking in training so far?
“Everyone’s come back in pretty good nick,” Wood said.
“There’s always a question mark after five weeks off as to whether everyone’s enjoyed their holiday a bit too much but everyone seems in pretty good shape. They’re all going well with the running and stuff like that.
“The new lads have come in and fitted in well, we’ve got some Academy lads coming in, the likes of Tui Uru are pretty good, getting stuck in and looking sharp. Henry Taylor is looking sharp, Alex Mitchell's brother (James) has been training with us as well and is looking sharp..
“It’s all looking positive, but it always does at this time of the year.”
A big advantage that Saints have during this pre-season campaign is that boss Chris Boyd has a full summer at Franklin’s Gardens.
Last year, Boyd had to split the early stages of the English close-season with steering the Hurricanes in the knockout stages of Super Rugby.
But he has no such time and travel commitments this year.
“Chris made a huge effort last year to make sure he was here to set his stall out,” Wood said. “He obviously had to miss some of the training but he did a pretty good job of making sure we knew what was expected and the mission statement was outlined early doors.
“We had a little bit of catching up to do when we went to Swansea (for a training camp and games against Ospreys and the Dragons) because that was our first chance to get all the cattle in the shed, as Chris says, and get us all together to really establish our goals and targets for the season.
“This year we’ve got much more of a headstart and a longer pre-season to get our house in order.”