Back To Square One

Posted on: 01 August 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Nick reflects on last season's performances and experiences, and looks ahead to a brand new rugby year.

After returning from England’s tour to New Zealand I’ve been enjoying my summer holidays, relaxing and catching some sun.

When you’re playing rugby at the top, at the highest level, things can get a little hectic and a little heavy so it’s always nice to rest and recuperate in the summer.

It’s given me a chance to reflect and look back on the season I’ve had with London Irish and also with England.

First of all, as a club, we were pleased with our performance this year at Irish. I think we raised quite a few eyebrows and made plenty of friends along the way of our Heineken Cup run.

There are some fantastic memories, not least the games with Perpignan in both the pool matches and in the quarter-finals.

Sadly though the defeat with Toulouse in the semi-finals was heartbreaking but I think I’m talking on behalf of the club when I say we’re starting to see the positives in that game now.

Unfortunately we just missed out on Heineken Cup qualification with our Guinness Premiership performances which means we’ll be playing in the European Challenge Cup.

The ECC is pretty much your UEFA Cup in football. English clubs have had great success in the competition over the past few years so it’s a realistic target for us to pursue next season.

From a personal point of view I was pleased with my own performances last year and I believe my game is getting stronger every year.

I’m motivated to play to the best of my ability and all season long I’ve been working as hard as possible at every element of my game to improve.

I think the hard work paid off when I was rewarded with the international call-up. Every professional sportsperson wants to represent their country and I’m no different in that respect.

It was great to be included in the squad that toured New Zealand with England but at the same time it was a little disappointing not to be involved in either test match.

Still, it opened plenty of doors and gave me some crucial experience for next time I meet up with the full international squad.

We’ve started pre-season training at Irish already with our first Premiership game now just over a month away against Wasps at Twickenham.

The main focus in pre-season is to get back to the shape we were in midway through last season. We need to be tuned in, fit, strong and sharp for when the season kicks off, otherwise rugby can be a daunting place to be.

As you can imagine it involves some pretty ruthless training regimes to get us into that shape. It’s also no secret that pre-season is probably the worst time to be a professional sportsperson.

Still, it’s got to be done and it benefits us in the long run. I’ll try and give you more of an insight into what we’ve been doing in my next diary.

The new season also brings some new playing rules brought in by the RFU for all age groups of rugby.

The experimental law variations have been explained to us and we’ll need to become accustomed to them quickly to avoid any needless penalties when we turn up to play Wasps.

It’s not something I’m too pleased with. I suppose I’m a traditionalist in the sense that ‘if it’s not broken, it doesn’t need fixing’, but the IRB and the RFU feel it needs tinkering with, so what they say rules.

At Irish we’ve also had some staff changes with our head coach Brian Smith leaving to join Martin Johnson’s staff with England.

It’s a great shame to lose Brian but we understand it’s a superb opportunity for him to work with an international side.

Toby Booth has stepped up as our new head coach. It’s nice to have a familiar face taking over and we as players all know our responsibilities already so Toby’s not had to crack the whip too much just yet.

I’m really looking forward to the new season. Although we’re still in pre-season, you still feel like a young boy and I’m itching to get back into match mode.

I’m really looking forward to the new season. Although we’re still in pre-season, I feel like a young boy and I’m itching to get back into match mode.

I think my aims for this season are pretty clear and my goals are quite straightforward. I want to play as much as possible with Irish, win a trophy - be it the ECC Cup or the EDF trophy - and qualify for the Heineken Cup.

I’d like to keep my place in the England squad and hopefully make the step up to winning my first full cap. From there it can be anybody’s guess.

With the British Lions touring South Africa at the end of the season I’m dreaming about forcing my way into Ian McGeechan’s thoughts and squad but right now that’s a long way off and all my focus is on Irish.

But it’s what dreams are made of.

Nick Kennedy was part of the England squad that toured New Zealand in June and has been selected in Martin Johnson’s elite training squad for England’s Autumn internationals.

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