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A new beginning in the never-ending season

It’s here, the long wait is over and rugby is finally back. Nine more league games remain in the 2019/20 season which started around 330 days ago.

Throw in the rest of a European campaign and some international rugby dates, and there’s absolutely no evidence of social distancing on the fixture list.

The Tig was passing time earlier this week flicking through the pages of Tigers programmes from earlier in the year. A front cover featuring Sam Harrison from the game against Bristol in January was among the pile.

Perception has been skewed by a unique five-month mid-season break, a resumption in August for a finale in October and a new season kick-off to follow in November, but was it really this season when we said farewell to Sam? Incredible.

It’s also still technically World Cup season and we know the demands that places on elite players and their clubs from previous cycles at Welford Road.

It was also this season when Hanro Liebenberg, Jaco Taute and Jordan Taufua, among others, signed in. Don’t forget Tomas Lavanini and Nephi Leatigaga are still in their first term at Tigers too.

They have all now had extended time to settle in to their surroundings off the field, even within the weird world of lockdown, and they have now returned to Oval Park suddenly among the longer servers, such was the rate of change in the changing rooms this summer.

Among the current squad, only Tom Youngs, Ben Youngs and Dan Cole have played more than 100 times for Tigers and they, together with international fly-half George Ford – who has always old beyond his years in rugby terms – will play a crucial part as the experienced spine of the squad.

Around them are layers of ability and experience, roughly comprising the newcomers settling in, last year’s intake looking to kick on, the homegrown core who have come through the ranks together determined to play their part in a Tigers resurgence and the group in their wake who are just starting to step up into the professional arena.

The hope is, of course, that the team can now settle, grow and gel together alongside a new-look coaching group, all with the goal of restoring Tigers to past glories, or at least consistent pursuit of them.

It starts with these next nine games in the longest season in rugby history.