The great and the good of English rugby - and GiveMeSport.com - assembled at Twickenham on Thursday to usher in the new Aviva Premiership season and to welcome BT Sport as the new broadcasters of domestic rugby.
In attendance were the captains and coaches of the 12 Premiership sides, some of BT Sport’s new star-studded line-up of presenters and pundits, Mark McCafferty, CEO of Premiership Rugby, and the finest rugby scribes the land has to offer.
GMS Academy member Will Macpherson and editor Mark Bollons were also in attendance, mixing with the game's great and good at the home of English rugby.
It was a day of arrivals - the arrival of BT Sport and their multitude of new broadcasting innovations, the launch of the Aviva Premiership’s most highly anticipated season yet, and the arrival of the league’s seven new captains. This was their opportunity to meet the media and lay out their plans for the forthcoming season.
The day began in mixed fashion for GMS. An unplanned tour around the gargantuan ground, much to the amusement of an onlooking security guards, was brought to an end after a run-in with four black cabs promoting next weekend's double-header between the London clubs!
When we eventually reached the entrance (having seen Twickenham from the outside in its entirety), we were ushered into a room with our fellow journalists, where we took advantage of the free coffee and biscuits. Captains and Directors of Rugby milled in and out as the skippers prepared for the season-opening photo out on Twickenham’s hallowed turf. Leicester’s new leader, Toby Flood, took pride of place in the centre for the champions.
As all this happened outside, us media types shuffled into a dimly lit room with three chairs and a lectern atop a shiny looking stage. After we’d all taken a pew and with the powerful pipes of Florence and the Machine filling the room, TV’s man for all seasons and the face of BT Sport’s rugby coverage, Craig Doyle, burst onto the stage, a bundle of energy.
Also invited on stage were McCafferty and two of the twelve Directors of Rugby: Richard Cockerill of champions Leicester Tigers and Dean Richards of newly-promoted Newcastle Falcons.
Doyle introduced a video reminding us about last season’s Premiership campaign, which, we discovered, contained more points than any top-flight season since 2002/3 (5,822) and more close games than any other league in the world (51% ended with a margin of victory of less than seven).
With our compere still all smiles and giggles, we were introduced (once again by VT) to the collection of former England internationals who will be Doyle’s partners-in-crime this season. We watch Messrs Dawson, Dallaglio, Kay and Healey mucking about with a delivery van at Twickenham, much to the amusement of all those present.
Our host then outlines the innovations that BT Sport will bring it’s viewers this year (highlights include a TMO at every game whether televised or not and new cameras in the dressing room, at the line-out and for place-kicking).
Things then get a little more serious as McCafferty waxes lyrical (and with good reason) about what a superb season the Aviva Premiership enjoyed last term and how this year is going to be even better. Doyle then began asking Cockerill and Richards (who hadn’t yet shared a smile) a series of questions about seasons past and present. Both were articulate and engaging, and even seemed to warm to each other towards the end of Craig’s interrogation.
Cockerill joked about the touchline ban that forbids contact with his players on matchday for their first nine games of the season; Richards was evidently aware of the uphill struggle that his Falcons side will face as the league’s new boys.
When the press conference concluded a scrum ensued (not literally) as Doyle invited us into the adjacent room to interview the coaches and captains, who sat spread across 12 round tables, waiting to be cross-examined about their pre-seasons, new star signings and hopes and aspirations for the coming year.
GMS decided to divide and conquer: with approximately 50 journalists all trying to catch a line from just 24 men it was always going to be slightly mad. Unsurprisingly, last season’s semi-finalists - Leicester, Northampton, Harlequins and Saracens - attracted the most attention (Dylan Hartley was barely able to move so big was the crowd around his large frame) but all 12 clubs sound in good shape and seem to be raring to go as kick-off looms.
After an hour or so, and very much against the odds, we had chatted to at least one representative from almost every club and left pleased, and looking forward to the season’s openers next weekend nearly as much as the players and coaches themselves.
We couldn’t leave, however, without picking up a bit of grub and the Aviva Premiership’s goody bag that contained all sorts of treats from the sponsors. Once a few of HQ’s finest canapés and a couple of bags had been nabbed, GMS set off, more than satisfied with a fine day’s work.
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