The two sides of the Premiership coin
August 27, 2014
The 12 Aviva Premiership captains line up for the traditional photocall © Getty Images
The contrast between the two coaches on the top table could not have been greater. As the 18th season of the Aviva Premiership was launched in Twickenham on Wednesday, the coach of newly promoted London Welsh, Justin Burnell, sat alongside the content boss of champions Northampton, Jim Mallinder.
For Burnell, it has been an off-season of re-structuring, getting bodies through the door - 26 new signings to be precise - and adjusting quickly to a new league and a higher standard of rugby and personnel. In contrast since Alex Waller scored the championship-winning try Mallinder has brought one player in and settled with the squad that did the business last term.
"Every year you'd love to add another two or three world-class internationals, but unfortunately because of the salary cap you cant do that," Mallinder said. "We're very happy with the squad we have. We have several senior players blended with youth. We're now seeing the fruits of our academy.
"Without a doubt it will be tight again and it becomes difficult in the autumn when you lose your internationals. The teams are improving all the time, so it's a brilliant competition. You can never go into a game half cocked, half baked."
For Mark McCall, the coach of beaten finalists Saracens, he was left to analyse where they went wrong against Toulon in the Heineken Cup and then the Saints. Rather than waiting to pick over the games after a holiday, he immediately looked at where they lost the matches. The same went for Bath captain Stuart Hooper who spent the early part of the summer dwelling on their Challenge Cup final loss to the Saints. They are looking forward to either making or seeing the first tackle in anger.
Sitting alongside Mallinder and Burnell at the top table was the chairman of Premier Rugby Ltd, Quentin Smith. He pronounced the league the greatest in world, a claim made by anyone who is launching a new season, and described it as "an entertainment business". Burnell will care little for entertainment, he is only after results.
Burnell nodded ruefully in agreement when Smith claimed "there isn't one easy fixture" in the league and Burnell knows they will be the team the other 11 fancy their chances of beating but he is adamant they are not there to be making up the numbers.
"We want to be able to compete. It would be negative if we used the usual clichés of 'every game is a cup final' and 'we just want to stay up'. There's more to it than that because we want to do ourselves proud. We're not here only to survive. We need the mindset that on any day we're capable of picking up points."
Burnell will end up being one of the off-field stars of the season. His friendly persona is a welcome addition to the Premiership as is his honesty. Piri Weepu was described as "a funny little fella" but the "ultimate professional". Burnell also talked over their various team-building dinners and how he is looking forward to taking on the other coaches and witnessing environments where supporters are "baying for blood". He hopes players such as Weepu will stand his side in good stead as they attempt to vie with those such as the Saints who know what it takes to win.
Seasons do seem to roll into one but the new faces and clubs act as the barrier between the old and new. They provide the impetus and sense of a fresh beginning that distinguishes one campaign from another.
Northampton will be the team to beat but there is a fresh dialogue to be written. Every team have different aims but there are 11 other coaches who want to be in Mallinder's position come next season where they have not spent a summer waiting to scratch an itch that takes 12 weeks to be satisfied.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
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