The Insider: Give youth its chance - again! They're ready . . .
After pre-season comes the realisation that we are all competing for those elusive jerseys
Time to do the maths. Seventy-two days of pre-season. Three pre-season friendlies. Fifteen Academy players used in these games. Countless metres run on the training pitch. Hundreds, maybe thousand of reps exhausted in the weights room. Thousands of good calories consumed to fuel our bodies for training. Hard, honest conversations about what we want out of this season. All of this to get us ready for the first round of the competition.
Now it's time to play the matches.
And finally it is upon us. A new Guinness PRO14. Two new clubs. There have been takeovers, there have been new players, new coaches, new structures, even new pitches. Everything that went before is a guide but that's all. New season, new rules of engagement.
There is no better feeling at this time of the year than the thought of the start of the competition. Pulling on a fresh, brand new Leinster jersey and wondering where exactly the journey in that shirt will take you? The dream is of course the Aviva Stadium in May but thinking that way won't get anyone too far.
Away to the Dragons is our one and only focus and what can we as players do every day to raise the standards. Tomorrow at 3.15pm and the four points on offer there is just as valuable come the end-of-season calculations. This is where competition points are up for grabs and every point counts.
It's been an exciting time here at Leinster. It's been one of the best pre-seasons that I can remember, and I've been involved in a few. Our Head of Athletic Performance Charlie Higgins and his S&C team have put us through our paces but they've also changed it up.
It's always refreshing to be involved with world-class trainers that adapt and change with the times. Charlie and his team are no different. His new ideas always add to a positive environment at Leinster HQ and while tough, you look forward to the day ahead and that's how it should be.
One constant from last year is the sprinkling of youth. I've already mentioned the 15 lads that have been involved in pre-season and it's always refreshing to see the standard of the Academy players coming through.
The youth, and speed, and skill level of this new crop of Leinster players is phenomenal.
Max Deegan, Jordan Larmour, Conor O'Brien, Jimmy O'Brien, Caelan Doris, Ronan Kelleher, to name a few, have all showcased their immense talent. An awesome sign for the future of Leinster Rugby. It's always humbling seeing these young guys getting their first Leinster caps and while some are patiently waiting, I think it's only a matter of time. The first of many I'm sure.
A special mention must go to Scott Fardy and his wife Penelope to welcome them both to our Leinster family. Scott has slotted in seamlessly in HQ and his contribution and experience already has been world-class. I wish them both well as they get used to their new surroundings.
So by the time you are reading this we are probably en route to Dublin airport for our first trip of the new Guinness PRO14 season. It will be a first trip for some but for all of us there is the same sense of excitement and, in equal measure, nervous energy for it all to start again. And this weekend is a chance.
With five Lions players and a host of Irish internationals still to return, the competition for places is super fierce at the moment so for those making the trip to Dublin airport the chance is theirs, the jersey is theirs this weekend and they have to make sure that they do their utmost to make decisions in the future for Leo and the coaches as difficult as possible.
But, as I said earlier, Dragons is the sole focus. We have struggled there over the years with only one win in the last three visits. Added to that they are a new team, on a new surface in Rodney Parade, under a new - but to some of us familiar - head coach (Bernard Jackman) and with some pretty good inside knowledge of the way we play (Zane Kirchner).
So this is a completely different task to the Dragons of last season. We know how important it is to hit the ground running and we will have to be on absolute point this week. We will continue to strive to get better one week at a time and to raise the standard from last season because last season ultimately wasn't good enough.
To the Leinster faithful... we can't wait to see you all cheering us on this season. A new competition and a lot of new faces wearing the Leinster jersey with pride. Bring it on.