Keith Richardson Report: Let battle commence
THE phony war is over, Salisbury Plain war-games have been put to bed and the paint-ball guns oiled and packed away.
Tomorrow sees a whole new kind of confrontation with live ammo, no holds barred and definitely no prisoners taken.
Welcome back to Premiership rugby – and what better way could there be than to take on real war horses, Northampton.
Gloucester have seen massive personnel changes and this may clear many minds of just how badly last season ended.
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It was always pretty obvious at the time that things were not right, but it took a while for the extent of the turmoil to emerge.
Players will not break the code of conduct by saying very much, but there was a great deal going on in the club and none of it was helping the playing side.
There is now a clean sheet and Nigel Davies has a good deal of talent available.
He will not have found the journey from Llanelli to Gloucester too difficult as the two clubs have so many similarities.
Both are traditional rugby clubs with a rich past and tradition, they are town teams and the support is fervent.
He will also be used to the simple fact that you cannot break wind without five thousand knowing about it within seconds!
The Saints usually produce an enormous forward effort against Gloucester.
They fully understand that big games are won up front.
A good front five beats opponents into, if not submission, second best.
Their star man has usually been Soane Tonga'uiha and he will have to be stopped almost before he starts as he is a formidable ball-carrier.
He may be worth targeting as they seem to take inspiration from his deeds – so let's hope the Cherry and Whites can get onto him early and stop any progress if he does get the ball.
And, of course, if he plays.
The Gloucester backs are as potent and exciting a force as any in the country, so the front five have a big task to give them a take-off platform.
Back-foot possession rarely gets real go-forward with ball in hand and can lead to the backs being lined up by opposition defenders.
The IRB's law changes make sense in theory, but let's see what the players and coaches do to disregard them.
The concussion bin is sanity personified, the new scrum engagement calls should have come in five seconds after the introduction of 'crouch, touch, pause, engage' and the move to stop rucks going on forever is to be applauded.
But whatever the authorities amend the big battle will be at the tackle.
The IRB can legislate till they are blue in the face, but the ball on the ground is where the trouble will occur.
The best teams cheat best and nobody does it better than New Zealand.
What they have that many other sides seem to lack is collective nous: a common vocabulary and the fitness to get plenty of players available if needed.
They are worth watching in slow motion because they are masters at the craft of getting away with it, whatever it is.
Too many British teams simply fly in at the tackle ball and tend to get whistled.
The Kiwis fight the battle with numbers, even if they do not have to go in, and are pretty adept at 'accidentally' knocking the first man into a position that stops the opponents playing the ball.
The word 'streetwise' comes to mind and it is a vital ingredient in rugby success.
The best front-five beasts will help dominate Premiership contests again this year.
Northampton's horde will offer a tough and exciting test.
â Details of Keith's coaching book can be found at www.thercm.org