Welcome, too, to the 661st entry on this blog - little did I or anyone else suspect, when I started this drivel some 2½ years ago, that I'd still be droning on come 2010. Even more astounding is that this blog has now received over 80,000 visitors which just goes to show that there's no accounting for taste.
The beginning of the new year also sees me uphold the tradition of attempting to make predictions as to what might occur in the year ahead and so, with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek and with nothing other than a healthy dose of scepticism and anti-logic on which to base my
IRB - I hate to think what the IRB might do in 2010 to further ruin our sport. Prepare yourself for ever more confusing edicts issued to referees on how to interpret the breakdown and brace yourselves for the carnage to follow.
Six Nations - I've a feeling deep within the recesses of my bowels that this could be England's year. Madness, I concede, and the form of the participating nations during the autumn dictates that the title should go to either France or Ireland. The Irish, however, have all the scrummaging power of an Under 8s tag rugby team and I can certainly see them coming unstuck away from home in Paris and Twickenham. France, meanwhile, remain at the whim of their head coach Marc Lièvremont. If he picks his best team and sticks with it they could prove unstoppable, but that's a very big if. England are, on the other hand, significantly ahead of where they were this time last year (when they eventually came 2nd) and if Messrs Flutey and Armitage can stay fit I can see England winning their home games as well as picking up wins in Rome and Edinburgh. So England 1st, France 2nd, Ireland 3rd, Scotland 4th, Wales 5th and Italy again taking the wooden spoon.
Premiership - Really tough to call this one. I can see Saracens' ruthless efficiency being enough for them to end up top of the pile at the end of the regular season but they're going to need much, much more creativity if they are to succeed in the play-offs. Northampton and London Irish have played some great stuff this year and, in Jim Mallinder and Toby Booth, each have an England coach in waiting but, somewhat inevitably, I suspect that Leicester and Wasps will once again be the teams to beat at the business end of the season, with Wasps sneaking in late and winning the title at Twickenham. At the other end I'm very sorry to say that Neil Back's Leeds look doomed.
Heineken Cup - If the Premiership was tough to call, the Heineken Cup is pretty much impossible. Neither Leinster nor Munster can be written off, while it really is time a French club got its act together in this competition. I don't think any of the English clubs are capable of mounting a credible challenge this year while the Welsh teams, I suspect, will continue to under-achieve. If I have to stick my neck out I'd say that Stade Français must sooner or later repay the huge amount of cash invested in their squad, so why not this year?
Super 14 - You know what, I really haven't a clue (or, I admit, a huge amount of interest) in who might take the Super 14 (or 15, or however many teams are taking part this season) crown this year. My only prediction - and I say this with some confidence - is that it won't be an Australian team - which (given my expertise in these matters) is probably a cause for celebration by fans of the Reds, Brumbies, Waratahs et al...
Tri Nations - Conversely (or perversely if you prefer) I do fancy the Aussies for this one (to the dismay of Australians everywhere). Of the three southern hemisphere teams who played oop north this autumn they looked by far the most accomplished, despite the rather amusing blip against Scotland. Although it pains me to admit it, the Wallaby front row was just superb, whilst David Pocock looked immense and Matt Giteau is currently the world's best 10 in my book. Just to put the kaibosh on their chances I'd also install them as favourites for the 2011 RWC.
Chesham Vets - whatever Chesham Vets accomplish this year, I only hope I'm part of it. A dodgy back has led to very little physical activity since October with the inevitable results - I'm fat, unfit and not about to set the rugby fields of Buckinghamshire alight any time soon. It's a cliché to say that my new year's resolution is to lose weight and get fit ('twas ever thus) but times are getting more than a little desperate...
A happy and prosperous New Year to you!