A season of ups and downs
June 10, 2010
The 2009-10 season was a mixed bag for Tom Rees © Getty Images
So another season has come and gone, well for most at least. There are summer tours to be played, but it still seems like a good time to take a look back over the last year.
On the home front the Guinness Premiership has provided lots of ups and downs throughout the last nine months, and to my mind showed that it is the most competitive domestic league in the rugby world. The season started strongly with some good rugby in the first few weeks, but as winter crept in, the interpretations of the laws at the breakdown and the weather started to take their toll on the game. There were still some really exciting matches, but this tended to come more from the physicality and close scorelines than it did from free flowing rugby with teams happier to kick the ball away than try and counter-attack.
This 'tennis effect' continued much to the frustration of all involved in the game but as the league started to draw to a close things opened right back up. There was probably no one reason, but a combination of the improved weather, the re-interpretation of the laws at the breakdown, and the tightness of the league table saw teams start to throw caution to the wind in search of victories. Right up until the end of the season most of the teams were involved in a battle to secure a play-off space or avoid relegation and this will have had as much of an effect as any other factor on the improved performances.
If I was to pick a team of the year, and I will, it would be from a number of candidates. Leeds deserve a mention for staying up this year, which is no small feat, and at the other end of the table both Northampton and Saracens played some excellent rugby and remained strong for the majority of the 2009-10 campaign. The winners however, must be the Premiership title holders Leicester, not just because they won the title, again, but because of the manner they did it in. They just seemed to quietly get on with the business of winning and didn't attract the same level of attention as some other sides, although you can forgive people for taking their success for granted.
In Europe the Heineken Cup final showed just how strong French rugby is at the moment. Their dominance wasn't just restricted to the final, between Biarritz and Toulouse, but also in the quarter finals with four French teams up against two Irish sides and one from both England and Wales. However, it will be interesting to see what effect, if any, the French Union's new rules on the number of French academy players that must feature in a squad do have. I seem to remember there being talk of a salary cap as well but but ultimately next year it will be important that teams from the other nations rise to the challenge and ensure that the showcase of European rugby does not become more like a French domestic cup.
Internationally, things weren't too different, with the French dominating proceedings to again secure the Grand Slam. On the world stage things aren't quite over yet, as the teams are now off touring, and for England some success in Australia is vital. While I don't think they have to win all their matches, victory in at least one of the Tests has to be a target. There must also be signs afterwards that the team is becoming a stronger, more cohesive unit, and that the young players on tour are given opportunities and more importantly they take them. Wales will look to test the All Blacks, and Ireland the same out in New Zealand, while Scotland have the difficult task of Argentina. All in all, it should at least make for some exciting rugby over the summer.
For me personally, 2009-10 felt like the longest season of my life even if I only played seven games. All the training and rehab I had to do after my two shoulder operations certainly dragged things out, but it did make those seven games all the sweeter for it. I was due to go away with the England Saxons to the Churchill Cup, but when the England and Wasps medical staff reviewed me it was decided that in the long term I would be better served by a summer spent strengthening my shoulder followed by a full pre season rather than the abridged version returning tourists get.
This was not over fears about my shoulder, as it has held up well, but the extra rest a summer off gives will help me to return next season in even better shape. I am disappointed not to go to the Churchill Cup, as it does have a reputation for being a more 'old fashioned' tour, but I am happy with the decision to leave me behind, as it will give the best shot at getting into shape ahead of a World Cup season. On that note, I'm going to go and enjoy the sunshine, a BBQ and a beer. Have a good summer.
Huw Richards profiles French forward Walter Spanghero, a man who even rugby's hard men thought was a tough nut
"To be part of the Commonwealth Games, I'd wear anything. I'd wear a clown suit." Tom Hamilton talks to Scotland's Sean Lamont
Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games
"Cheika's been phenomenal. He gives you an incredible level of mental strength." Tom Hamilton talks to Waratahs star Jacques Potgieter