December the Official Start of Super Rugby 2018 Pre-Season

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Auckland Blues Pre Season Training
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - DECEMBER 01: The Blues players take part in a beep test during an Auckland Blues Super Rugby pre season training session ahead of the 2018 Investec Super Rugby Championship at Alexandra Park on December 1, 2017 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Goals must be set early. It might be easy to say “we want to win the Title” but the most constructive goals are both detailed, and begin immediately. So as the final month of 2017 begins, December is the official start of Super Rugby 2018 pre-season.

That entails the team kit, jersey, new training gear issued, and obligatory reference to the sponsor [critical in professional sports]. There are figure heads to be appointed and any pre-season fixtures confirmed.

Looking at recent news, much of this has, and will, be covered in the next month–before the Christmas/New Year holidays. Then, the Super Rugby 2018 pre-season carries on toward the season proper in February.

New Look for Several Teams

The team jersey is one element that is crucial in building a strong identity. Often it is a very traditional feature but; in the modern terms of Super Rugby and in marketing value today, the jersey is also a changing element.

December 1st was the release date of several teams’ new 2018 jerseys. Home, away and for some the training jersey is also a replica that fans can also purchase. So while the players will wear the kit, it is a marketing tool for brands like Adidas and other manufacturers.

As the New Zealand franchise teams exhibited their new home jerseys over social media, the stock arrived at online and retails stores. Loyal fans decide on whether to update their wardrobe–and while in terms of the teams success, it might not seem important. having your ‘tribe’ all dressed in the same seasons kit is a factor.

Legacy can also be a strong function of a new jersey. Some teams who respect the long history of their franchise, pride themselves on that legacy. So for a team like the Bulls, updating the jersey is not only just a design, but it must retain a link to the side’s heritage.

Team colours, a motif or co-ordination of patterns all show that link. A new shade of blue, might not seem like much, but the Auckland franchise have made significant changes to the colour of the home jersey.

Fan reaction to a change in jersey will be discussed, debated and (for the Blues) could be a hot subject when the opening match of Round 3 in March of 2018, sees them run onto Eden Park.

Roles Assigned for the New Season

Over the last weeks, positions have been finalized within many franchises. From the Crusaders new backs coach Ronan O’Gara, to Brad Thorn being appointed the Queensland Reds head coach. New roles are assigned for both management and for players.

Most of the squads had already seen their leadership roles announced. Captain being the primary position, or co-captains as it is so common with today.

A side like the ACT Brumbies has gone a step further, with a high number of new names revealed in their full squad. The late announcement has been compounded by the embarrassing results of 2017 and the culling of the Western Force.

There is a mix of established players, new prospects and a returning superstar in David Pocock. He returns from sabbatical, and will surely be a part of the Brumbies’ senior leadership team. A modern trend, where the senior respected men assume roles in the squad, to develop culture and on-field leadership.

Captaincy is still critical, and while each franchise makes those decisions independently, it is often one decision that receives the most attention. For the Crusaders, the call will need to be made about who will lead the side, in the early rounds before Sam Whitelock returns from All Blacks rest period.

Augi Pulu Named New Blues Captain

The role of captain is given to a player who can both offer their experience and total commitment to the side. That means from day one–and that is reflective of both the Crusaders upcoming decision, and the Auckland Blues franchise.

Head coach Tana Umaga made a surprising call, when revealing to media today that Augustine Pulu would assume captaincy in 2018. This was as much out of respect to his leadership ability with Counties-Manaukau [a side Umaga coached] and out of necessity.

Former leaders James Parsons and Jerome Kaino will not be fit to start the year, so the coach felt it was crucial to have an on-field leader from the first day of Super Rugby 2018 pre-season.

“He’s passionate about what he does and the club and the vision we have and where we want to head to,” Umaga told Fairfax Media, at the start of Blues’ pre-season training on today.

Pre-Season Training and Warm-Up Games

So after the immediate inductions and paperwork, the sides can get down to the fundamentals of pre-season. That is player fitness, squad development and skills training. The defence and attack, set-play, forwards and backs group sessions and the introduction of game plans.

All the boxes are ticked during this period, from the basic to the more advanced. Elements like kit, marketing, culture and leadership make-up those steps, well before any opposition can be engaged.

Most often at the early stages, that involves inter-squad matches. 10 minute halves, game plans for strategic contingencies and other tactics are used to develop that team bond. With a high degree able to be achieved at the franchise training base (see main picture) until the side is ready to face an opposition ‘in anger’.

The main opportunity for this is in local pre-season games. Normally and local fixture, or a trip to a tournament or location that is usually not far from base. But one schedule event is for early February.

Stubhub Center Hosts Super Rugby 2018 Pre-Season

In this unique event, the Stormers and Bulls will contest a Super Rugby 2018 pre-season game in the United States. A double-header fixture that sits alongside an International match between the hosting United States team v Argentina Rugby XV. Part of the Americas Championship, the feature game will surely be a serious encounter while the early pre-season game will help the South African conference sides prepare for Round One.

Games like this are often times to experiment, so both the Stormers and Bulls will travel with a large group, to expose man players to the environment. This is before a range of matches are played across all three conferences, before the season opens on Feb 18.

Looking ahead, all 15 sides will have goals and objectives. Pre-season matches maybe number 20 on those lists, so the Stormers and Bulls, the ACT Brumbies and the Blues will all have needed to accomplish many steps before this point.

All points will need the buy-in from team management and players, from fans and followers. Those parties all contribute to a successful preparation. Prep being an important component–but not more important than attitude.

The best prepared teams also need a positive attitude. Reaching a goal begins at this stage. From December until late February, all teams are aiming for the same goal. The best start possible. Steps taken now, will pay dividends when the playoffs occur in July 2018.

 

“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images

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