Edinburgh Rugby will play their first pre-season match against Bath in a fortnight, but such has been the effort put in this week by the squad at their training camp in St Andrews that head coach Richard Cockerill believes they are almost ready to play right now.
When the 47-year-old joined the capital club last summer one of the first things he moved to address was the overall fitness of the playing group. He felt some of them were just not prepared for the rigours of a long, hard season encompassing Guinness Pro14 duties, a European sojourn and, for some, international action.
Certainly the way Edinburgh played last term as they made the play-offs in the league showed great improvements in that area – and now Cockerill wants to take things to the next level.
The friendly against Bath on 17 August at Meggetland is followed by a trip to Newcastle Falcons seven days later before the Pro14 opener away to the Ospreys on 31 August.
And, with new signings like scrum-half Henry Pyrgos, stand-off Simon Hickey, centres Matt Scott and Juan Pablo Socino, props Pietro Ceccarelli and Pierre Schoeman and back-rows Luke Hamilton and Senitiki Nayalo having added quality to the playing pool, the head coach admits he has a tough task ahead to select the starting XVs for those three games.
When you add into that the fact that the internationalists who were on summer tours returned to full training in Fife in recent days following an extended break – while the likes of WP Nel and Hamish Watson are nearing full fitness – then it will be intriguing to see what Edinburgh’s early season best starting team is.
Cockerill said: “It has been good to be away from the distractions of home, we all have responsibilities with families and such like and this just allows us to live in each other’s pockets, get to know each other a bit better, have meetings and really focus on the attention to detail.
“The international guys have been back this week so it is the first time during pre-season that we have had a full squad in with us and we can get properly organised.
“The focus of the week has been to set out the standards that we want for the coming season, look back on what we managed to achieve last season and look at where we can go over the next few months – as well as just getting some hard work done.
“Everyone has been putting their hand up to play and this is the time where you start forming opinions on who might play in the opening games.”
As well as their core rugby work, the playing squad also had a dip in the freezing cold sea during the training camp as preparations for the campaign crank up a notch.
However, despite being at “the home of golf” the players have not been near a golf course – because the head coach does not like a day out on the links.
“I don’t particularly like golf and we haven’t been playing any,” the former England cap stated. “The players did go in the sea one day, which was interesting, but I stayed on dry land.
“As I say, these kind of weeks are just good to get away without other things getting in the way and really focus on rugby.”
Meanwhile, John Barclay has given Cockerill – and Edinburgh and Scotland supporters – a boost with the news that he hopes to be back playing by December.
He ruptured his Achilles tendon in May while playing for the Scarlets and it had been thought he would be struggling to return in time for the Six Nations which start in February, but the 71-cap, 31-year-old back-row has revealed he hopes to be back playing before the end of the year.