By Alan Dymock
THE WAITING is almost done. We are just over a week away from the opening days of the Aviva Premiership and the RaboDirect Pro12 and already we are condemning some to a season of torment or promoting others to the status of champions elect.
It is presumptuous to do so before a ball has been kicked or a squint throw pinged and, more so than this, it is hard to know how some teams will fare without key personnel.
The season will kick off without some big names and, more importantly for fans, there are certain players who would normally be worth the price of admission to see, but who will miss the grand debut for assorted reasons. There are some match-winners who will miss game one.
Signed from the Bulls of South Africa as a potential successor to Isa Nacewa, the springy full-back is with South Africa for the Rugby Championship until, potentially, October 7.
That is a long time to be away from your new teammates and takes a greedy bite out of his two-year contract at the same time. The problem is that he has not played for South Africa so far, having not been picked in the match day 23 for the two Tests against Argentina. South Africa can keep him for as long as they want, but on his arrival there is no way of knowing how fit he will be. The great shame is that he has the slick heels and versatility to offer a lot to Leinster and their back three, but he may be rustier than the Titanic by the time he splashes down in Dublin.
Speaking of splashes, the Bath man is making waves in South Africa as he has made himself the go-to ball-thief and turnover-hunter on the Sprinboks’ openside. He is highly rated and therefore the bad news for fans in the south west is that he will miss the start of the season as he does battle in the Rugby Championship.
London Irish are expected to have another tough season fighting off relegation, so to lose your full-back and star goal kicker is a huge blow.
A groin injury during pre-season means that Homer may have to have an operation, or at the very least face a prolonged period of rest, icing his kicking leg. In the meantime, fans may be either warmed or horrified to learn that stalwart winger Topsy Ojo is the only real candidate to fill in at 15.
Touted as a possible Worcester Warriors captain before the campaign, 29-year-old second-row Percival will miss the opener due to a torn bicep. With fellow academy product Alex Grove, the Scotland international outside centre, also set to miss the first match, new head coach Dean Ryan will have a few less experienced Worcester men to rely on in when they visit champions Leicester Tigers on Sunday, September 8.
His dislocated elbow is not as bad as first feared, but missing game one will be a shame for a speedster many want to kick on this season.
Victorious Lions captain; Welsh dependable; out injured.
In what could be his last season as a Cardiff Blue, Warburton will miss the start of the slog after botching himself representing the Lions in Australia. Will Cardiff get everything out of them they can before he potentially leaves? Perhaps not, but just having him around the place will help, even if he is not playing.
The fizzed-up-can-of-coke that is Niko Matawalu will be absent from the Glasgow Warriors first outings due to a metatarsal injury, much to the disdain of fans who like their rugby unpredictable and spirited. With playmaker Pete Horne also out long-term Glasgow will be a little short of spice in a handful of games.
You may not be completely familiar with Habberfield, but with the young scrum-half out for a few months and Rhys Webb on the sidelines until the new year the passing and feeding is left to new signing Tito Tebaldi. Some were skeptical about the signing of Tebaldi, but now he is all they have. How will the Ospreys cope?