It’s a weird feeling, to be on the eve of the new Guinness Pro14 season, yet be walking past Christmas treats on the shelves of ASDA.
Now that does of course reflect the fact that the supermarkets have gone ridiculously early when it comes to putting festive items on the shop floor, but also the fact that the league is starting so late.
With Wales having been playing since early August, and the Rugby World Cup having begun last week with games on every day since, it feels like rugby has been back a long time, and has somewhat diminished the build up to the start of the Pro14.
However for those of us who enjoy standing out on the cold terraces on Friday nights in January, the fun of another season is about to start all over again, and for Cardiff Blues it gets going in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
The game away at Southern Kings marks the start of the second season under John Mulvihill, and represents an interesting one when considering what would mark a successful year for the club.
When looking at it from a league position perspective the aim, as it has been for the last 10 years, is to qualify for the play-offs. Since they were introduced in the 2009/10 we have never made the league’s post-season games, instead watching on from a disappointing distance.
Being brutally honest though, the on-paper expectation does not necessarily stack up with making the play-offs. Munster and Scarlets clearly have stronger squads than us, possibly even during the World Cup period courtesy of short-term signings, while there are arguments to be made that Benetton and Edinburgh may also be stronger.
While we have plenty of talent in certain areas of the field, and even some decent depth in one or two positions, we are still lacking that weight up front and have issues with depth at loosehead, lock and fly-half to contend with.
In order to push into the top three of Conference B we will have to punch largely above our weight. Not a new phenomenon, we won the Challenge Cup on both occasions doing exactly the same thing, but not ideal if truth be told.
Rather than focus on league positions though, I am going to try at least to look at performances instead, following the lead of John Mulvihill when he identified consistency as a key aim for the season.
Too many times during the last campaign we failed to back a good win up with a second positive performance, or let ourselves down in one half of a game having started strongly, or been left having to fight back in the second period.
As a result developing that consistency would be the ideal target for the second season under Mulvihill, with a style of play we should now be comfortable with, a playing squad he has had a year to mould and a coaching setup that he has had time to evaluate and tinker with.
That’s not to say that the season is being written off when it comes to results, but the consistency should bring about that improvement in league position. We have seen under Mulvihill that the team can fire. Munster at home, Scarlets both home and away, and Lyon at home last season spring to mind.
However those performances were let down by the away game at Glasgow in the league, away to Ulster and against the Ospreys at Judgement Day.
There will still be games that we will lose, but if we’re outplayed then it’s a defeat where hands can be held up, and if the consistency levels hold then we should be able to bounce back from that the following week.
That consistency can then hopefully bring about a winning mentality, similar to that which we saw in the second half of the 2017/18 season on the way to Bilbao, and see us push towards the play-offs for the first time in the Pro14.
What a story it would be for Cardiff Blues to make the Final in the Cardiff City Stadium, right?
It’s the hope that kills you.