The 44-man OEs squad fly to Dublin on Thursday before travelling to Galway for a full day’s training. Then on Saturday, they will field two sides against Buccaneers from Ulster Bank League Division 1A and Galwegians from Division 2A.
It’s the third successive year that the club have made the pre-season trip to Ireland and head coach Sam Howard (pictured) believes the training camp is invaluable in terms of preparing the squad for their first ever match in National One - the season opener at Esher on September 2nd.
“We don't often get a chance to have a sustained period together with the whole squad,” Howard said, “So we can have a few meetings, video analysis and fine-tune our tactical plays which is invaluable. Also, we will be playing our first proper games so we can see where we are in terms of preparation for the first league game.
“As a group, the players have set high standards for themselves and every time they put on the 1st XV shirt they have their own and the coaches’ expectations to live up to. So the whole focus at the weekend is on our performance.”
Howard admits, with strength in depth in every position this season, competition for first team places is fierce and the short trip will provide every squad member with an opportunity to force their way into the coaches’ thinking.
Last season, young lock Charlie Self enjoyed an outstanding training camp and a man-of-the-match performance against Connacht to force his way into the first team reckoning, and Howard says places are up for grabs again.
“If a player has an excellent game in Ireland and then backs it up with another good game in our final pre-season fixture against Richmond the following week (August 19th),” Howard said, “then they will have put their name in the hat for selection against Esher. It’s as simple as that.
“No one is guaranteed their position and we always select on merit. I think our strength in depth this year is outstanding and we will have selection headaches in every position, but that is a great position to be in.
“A few players enhanced their chances in the inter-club game last Saturday and the way they have trained over the first five weeks of pre-season.”
The OEs coach has been delighted with pre-season preparations so far and believes the squad are further advanced than at the same stage last summer.
“I've been extremely pleased with the players’ attitude, commitment and work rate,” Howard said. “I believe we are fitter than at this time last year and because we haven't brought in as many new players and the majority of the coaching structure has been in place for over a year, we are tactically and organisationally well ahead of where we were last year.
“Also, all of the new players have fitted in seamlessly on and off the pitch. As you know, we place as much importance, if not more, on team culture and being a good bloke as we do on the rugby side.
“The victory at Sale at the end of last season brought the squad even closer together and we are in a really good place at the moment. Yes, it may be difficult keeping everyone happy, but as I said, if we are true to our selection policy of selecting on form and being open and honest with the players then hopefully we can maintain a tight-knit squad.”
Updated 13:30 - 22 Aug 2017 by Jon Edwards