Oh yes, here it comes, the Six Nations! For rugby fans, from the fanatics to the vaguely interested, the Six Nations does have that special ability to evoke all kinds of different emotions. So many of them are those warm, friendly, positive emotions that the sight of an England shirt seems to ignite in players and fans alike.
So what do I hope from this 2013 tournament? Well it will come as no surprise that it will be ever so slightly English-biased, but there is a wider hope for the tournament too.
For England there are a number of hopes, and even one demand which I can get out of the way early on - no more coloured shirts for a while! Let's just get into the habit of winning in white before we branch out into Paul Smith-esque kit and dazzle teams with our fashion!
First hope - the Twickenham ramparts become stronger and stronger and the 'fortress' materialises again from the fog of too many mediocre years. When the England team arrive at Twickenham and walk off the coach down the player's entrance, it needs to be with the unflinching determination that whoever has arrived to play them, leaves beaten. There is nothing worse than losing, and the worst of the worst is losing at Twickenham! Walking off that pitch, which is your pitch, having been beaten, that really really hurts!
Second hope is that we have not been lulled into a false sense of importance by that amazing win over the All Blacks. It was one of those afternoons that will live long in the memory, and especially for the players, but the most important thing is that it is consigned to the memory and that the focus is on the present.
I have to admit that I sat with quite a few ex-players, from both sides, and when it got back to 15-14, I turned to them and said: "Oh well, looks like that is that, but let's be fair the England boys have done way better than expected, they have shown some real fight today". Finger on the pulse as ever! So come the final whistle I was stunned, very happily so, but still stunned!
Now, wins like that can have two outcomes. The first is that the players soak up the moment, soak up the memories, the emotion, go out - drink and party hard, and smile at the memory of it for a week or two - then refocus and resolve to improve on it so that they can keep experiencing days like that. The second is that players can soak up the moment, soak up the memories, the emotion, go out - drink and party hard, then keep going out and partying hard on the back of that one win.
Convince themselves that they have beaten the best and that makes them the best, think they have cracked it and so crack open another beer. If the second option has happened with England, our dearly beloved cousins from North of the Border will come down with their young guns and produce the upset of the opening weekend.
With Stuart Lancaster in charge, I am not too concerned that the latter will occur. Looking at that management team - Lancaster, Rowntree, Farrell and Catt - you are hard pressed to spot the stand-up comedian! They are quite focused. Catt can occasionally smile, but to be fair he is never quite sure at what, and it soon passes.
Seriously - they are a good coaching group, and I am sure they will have walked the fine line between sucking all the confidence-boosting memories from the All Black win and beating any signs of arrogance and conceited behaviour hard over the head.
Thirdly we build on the hard running we saw against New Zealand - it has been too scarce for too long. Smiler Catt needs to keep the midfield in that positive frame of mind, we need to run with pace, intent and variety. Easy to say, harder to achieve, but the green shoots were evident in that New Zealand win - keep watering them Catty!
Fourthly, stop getting some supposed pop star to sing the National Anthem! It makes me cringe! This is Twickenham, and I know I am now sounding like an old fart, but there is nothing better for a player than to hear the wall of sound engulfing them from the stands before a game and I am sure the crowd prefer that 'real' noise and singing, rather than the whining of some irrelevant singer. (Rant one over!)
Fifthly - which I always find hard to say - is that discipline is maintained, both personal and team, and that as a result England find it much easier to dominate games. It is a fundamental in rugby that the referee is respected, and it is something that rugby does not make enough of. It is a great example to the fans, to the TV audience, to kids and to parents, that in the midst of such aggression and confrontations, there is still a steely respect and adherence to the law of the whistle. How football tolerates the abuse referees get amazes me, and you can stick as many 'respect' badges on a players arm as you want, if his behaviour flouts that very word with every swear word he utters, what a pitiful scenario it keeps throwing up. (Rant two over!)
Point Six - as I am sure you cannot say sixthly - England keep developing a leadership team around Chris Robshaw. I have said it so many times that far too much is made of captaincy, except during my time as I was genuinely special, but then we all know that! Of course a captain is important, vital at times, but it is the existence of a leadership group that enables teams to be great.
The current All Blacks team have one, the great South African team of John Smit had one, as did Martin Johnson's great side - look at the Back/Dawson/Hill/Dallaglio/Greenwood characters. This England team need to develop a leadership nucleus, to guide Robshaw, debate with him, provide ideas for him and challenge his ones, and to provide reinforcement of the direction that he wants to take them.
So quite simple really. In essence, I want to see that England kick on from the New Zealand game. I want to see that they have not wallowed in the result for too long and I want to see that they have the steel and desire to move on and improve from it. Not too much to ask is it?
And in the wider context, to enjoy great sport, laced with plenty of humour from the fans. The Six Nations provides great stadia, full of passionate fans, and yet not a hint of violence amongst them. Fans can mix, can cheer can berate their team, but not once have I heard of any problems in the stands. What a great environment this championship provides, one where you can go with mates, or even feel safe and confident enough to go with your kids and know that they will have an amazing experience, and a safe one!
To enjoy watching mounted police chat and laugh with the fans on the way in and out of the grounds - what a great relief that must be for them. To listen to the singing in Cardiff, to miss the craic in Dublin, to feel the passion in Edinburgh and to watch the shrugging in Paris, punctuated with moments of sheer French brilliance.
So much to look forward to, and without sounding too much like my dad, so much to be proud of.Suggest a correction