By Alan Dymock
MOVING AWAY from home is the right of passage for some. Scores of road movies and coming-of-age dramas are based on the subject. However, for rugby teams, home is where they are most likely to grow in power and support.
Nevertheless, pre-season is a time to throw convention and result-worry aside; to test combinations and try and find your definitive style for the next season. It is also, it seems, a time to take your team to different parts of your surrounding region or even to take a flight of fancy, challenging yourself in foreign climes like a group of hot-under-the-collar teenagers. At least that is the way it seems, scanning some of the pre-season friendlies scheduled for the coming month in Europe.
On August 9 Castres Olympique, champions of France, will face a new-look, Pat Lam-led Connacht side in Lacaune, some 49km east of Castres’ home at the Stade Pierre-Antoine. That same day in Geneva, the largest city in the French-speaking region of Switzerland, there are two attention-grabbing warm-up matches. There is a mid-afternoon fixture between Harlequins and high-rolling Racing Metro before an evening match between Montpellier and Leicester Tigers. All of this will be played at the Stade de la Praille which had previously housed the Heineken Cup pool clash between Bourgoin and Munster in 2007.
On the 17th, Sale Sharks return to their spiritual home, briefly vacating the silver, hulking Salford City Stadium in order to play Leeds Carnegie at the old Heywood Road ground, where their junior Jets side regularly play. It’s an excuse to drag a traditional side to where it all began for the Greater Manchester club, displaying a bit of Sale’s heritage.
That is a tactic Munster use sometimes during their regular season too, infrequently flitting between Thomond Park and Musgrave Park during the Pro 12 campaign. They will be at the latter ground in Cork for a friendly this summer, playing London Irish on the 30th of August.
A more novel move than that, though, is coming from the sometimes-nomadic Saracens, who have opted to land a game in the City of London in August, despite having just settled in their new home at the Allianz Park. They will be at the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC), Moorgate, on August 22, facing Cornish Pirates. Surrounded by glass monstrosities and sky-pestering office blocks (as seen above), Sarries will offer fans a different experience.
Will these shifts from home rejuvenate squads and offer them perspective for the long, hard season ahead? Who cares; it’s about trying things out and for the punters it’s a bit of fun before the season proper when no one wants to leave the comfort of home except when it is time for a Final.