I THINK the big thing for us is that we are vying for a top six finish in the Pro12 so we can qualify for the top-flight competition in Europe. We appreciate that there is going to be very heavy rivalry for those slots and I think that that is a good thing for the league competition. I think it’s a good thing for everyone. You need competition to drive player, coach, referee and administrative development, so we are looking forward to a tough, challenging season.
We have been able to address our conditioning over the summer and I think we saw a little bit of that against Leicester. All those lads have been pretty much conditioned from the start of the season and you can see the benefits of it. The challenge for us is to bed in players who return late from injury and get them up to speed. We will do that. I am much happier with the conditioning.
Regarding the southern hemisphere players, I have said right from the beginning we needed to recruit because we were lacking in certain positions, but the vision is to build a club, not a team. The only way to build a club for the future is through our young indigenous talent. That process has started and you see the green shoots when (Sam) Hidalgo-Clyne played last Saturday, Rory Sutherland will be picked up, he has real talent, and Jamie Richie has just left school and he gave a good account of himself last weekend.
Matt Scott isn’t our captain but he is one of our five leaders (along with Grant Gilchrist, Mike Coman, Andries Strauss and Ross Ford). We will announce the captain in the week ahead of the competition.
The first month is going to be challenging because we have 11 frontline players out. However, all of them should be back in action soon, with the exception of Matt Scott and David Denton, so it gives an opportunity to our other players. The season is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. We are going to rebuild a club, the morale and spirit is excellent, the tough start to the season is a chance for the other players to show what they can do.
This season we need to win our home matches. We lost to teams like Scarlets, Ulster and Cardiff at Murrayfield and we lost away from home to both the Italian teams, when we had something like 12 scoring chances against Treviso.
We finished in eighth place and we only needed another couple of wins to finish in the top six, which is our goal this season. If you want to do well in this league you have to win the majority of your matches at home, so we must turn Murrayfield into our fortress.