The Aviva Premiership season is broken up by three things, the blocks of games, the weather and international call ups. Here I deconstruct the season so that you can see how the clubs have to approach things.
Why are there blocks of games?
You can’t talk about the Aviva Premiership without also talking about the LV-cup and european games as well. These other competitions play an integral part to the season and break up the Premiership games into chunks. You will often hear the players and coaches talking about having a target for this block of games for example.
OK and the weather?
Next up comes the weather, if you check out the BBC website for average weather conditions for London, you will see that the average rainfall picks up in October and November. Whilst December is drier, January is also wet. Due to this rain you will hear talk of heavier pitches over winter. This is really October to January with pitches firming up from February. Conventional wisdom says you can’t play running rugby during this time. This is now being challenged with commentators pointing out that the All Blacks do it in the cold and wet of New Zealand. Having just moved to Auckland I can confirm that it’s very cold and wet here.
You mentioned International call ups?
The other factor that impacts the season are the two international windows for the November Internationals and the 6 Nations in February-March. This means that the clubs have to play their games during these periods without their international stars.
OK let’s get on with the season then
Well it starts even before the season starts. Yup there is pre-season and this impacts how the season starts. The June international window still has an impact on the club as the international players who have been on tour will come back later. So the number of international players in your squad will impact the clubs ability to train as a complete team.
So once you have finally got all your players together and played the 3ish pre-season games you hit the 1st block of Aviva Premiership games. There are lots of clichés about hitting the ground running and fast starts. The reason for this is that the first block is also the largest at 6 games back to back. That’s a quarter of the season so whatever momentum you get can really snowball. The tail end of these games gets into the beginning of the wet season but not long enough to make the ground heavy.
We then come into the first break for cup games, 2 weeks of european games followed by 2 weeks of LV-cup action. For those in the European Rugby Champions Cup it’s 2 more weeks of first choice squads followed by the opportunity to rest some players for 2 weeks with the LV-cup. Whilst those in the Challenge Cup get 4 weeks to rest players and rotate the squad. The exception is for the international players as the November International window starts in LV-cup weekends.
It’s back to the Aviva Premiership for 3 weekends, the international window officially covers the first 2 but Wales and England will be playing in the third weekend as well. So during this block of games the mid table teams will be hoping to have the opportunity to mug the top 4 teams without their international stars.
2 more weekends of European cup action with all the internationals back and again an opportunity for those in the second tier to rotate the squad. Those in the top-tier will all still be in with a chance of making the quarter finals and so no rotating of players.
The next block of 4 Aviva Premiership games takes us through Christmas and will be real winter rugby with packed houses over the holiday period. For those in the top-tier of European rugby they will have had 5 weeks of first choice squad rugby coming into this. Clubs with thinner squads could start to struggle during this period, for example someone like Wasps. It also means that we are over halfway through the season as it takes us up to 13 games played. You will have played all the other teams and we will really know who the contenders, pretenders and relegation candidates are.
Finishing January and into February we have 4 more cup games. Starting off with two european games and by now some of those in the top-tier will know that they have no hope, so may rotate some players. Then the last 2 round robin LV-cup games and also the start of the 6 Nations so the home internationals won’t be available for their clubs.
Another block of 4 Aviva Premiership games during the 6 nations so again the mid table crowd will be looking to pick up some big scalps. At the end of this 7 out of the 22 games, so 30% of the Premiership season, will be have been played without the international stars. Also the wet season is over so the pitches should be firming up and running rugby back in fashion, so look for Quins and Exeter for example to be enjoying themselves.
The next 2 weekends are still conflicting with the 6 Nations but are also the first opportunity to gain silverware. It’s the semi finals and final of the LV-cup. For those not involved it’s also the first weekend without rugby for 6 months. Yes all the clubs will say that winning the LV-cup is good but some will secretly think that 2 weeks rest is more so.
Heading into April we are officially into the run in now with only 5 regular season games to go, but it’s also very messy from a fixture point of view. There is 6 weeks of alternating between Aviva Premiership and European rugby. The European rugby is into the playoff stages so quarter finals, semi finals and final. This means that most of the teams will only be playing every other week whilst those that have qualified will be having their squads stretched to breaking point depending on injuries. It also means carrying momentum during this period could be difficult for those that have not qualified.
Into May and we have the last 2 rounds of the regular season followed by back to back weekends of semi finals and Aviva Premiership final.
That sounds a little different to last year
Yup the change from Heineken Cup to European Rugby Champions Cup has change the season. Most of that change is really seen in the run in section. The old setup always had at least 2 premiership games back to back. There wasn’t the flip-flopping between competitions. Also the European Final was at the end of the season but that has been moved earlier by about 3 weeks.
It’s going to be interesting as there were problems selling tickets for the semi finals last year and then there was 3 weeks between quarter finals and semi finals. This year there is only 2 weeks, hopefully they have their marketing strategy ready. The lateness of announcing the fixtures doesn’t leave me with much hope.
OK so now we have gone through all that political fighting this is how we will see it for a few years
Ah well with the world cup in England next year there can’t be any domestic rugby played at the same time. So that means at least 7 weeks taken out the start of the season and maybe 2 more if there is no rugby before the world cup.
It’s not clear what is going to happen yet but at least the clubs and union are talking and not just putting out press releases. But the LV-cup takes up 6 weeks so I can see that getting sacrificed.
One option that appeals to me is playing the whole of the LV-Cup during the world cup but do it all in Wales. That could be a shot in the arm for the Welsh regions if marketed well and also good payback for supporting the European Rugby Champions Cup concept against their union.