Rugby Correspondent Brian Dick counts down to another season with an England legend... ..TEXT: The rugby season kicks off tonight but not everything is as it once was.
The top flight's monicker has a new-found stoutness, those oval ball aristocrats Harlequins will be required to demonstrate theirs, dodging molehills and defenders in dimlylit fields, and the man who embodied that quality has left centre stage for good.
The 2005-06 campaign might be the 19th since leagues were introduced but for many across the shires it is the first domestic season AJ - After Johnno.
For 'tis not only 'Quins and the Zurich insurance company who have thrown off their Premiership coil, this season will be the first since 1989 to start without the legendary Martin Johnson.
The only man to have captained the British Lions twice and who led England to World Cup glory ended his illustrious career in the Premiership Final in May and, although he has had a few months to get used to his freedom, he believes only tomorrow will he fully comprehend what that means.
Leicester Tigers, the team he represented with distinction for 16 years, start their championship quest at home to Northampton Saints tomorrow afternoon, and for once Johnson will be powerless to influence the outcome. His is now a passive interest.
"When they start playing and the league starts it will really hit home that I am not out there doing it," he said. "It just feels like the offseason at the moment. But once the season progresses and those winter Saturday afternoons come round when you are not playing and don't fancy going shopping - that's when I'll know."
Not that retirement saw Johnson don his slippers and cardie and start pottering around the garden.
Immediately after his last game he spent seven weeks working in New Zealand, a huge amount of time launching the RFU-approved rugby camps that carry his name and the rest of the time sifting through a million and one other offers. Quite how he fitted his rugby into the rest of his life is not immediately apparent.
Perhaps that's why he stopped trying. "It was definitely time to retire," he said. "I won't miss all the training and the amount of time we spent on a practice field.
"By definition training becomes slightly routine but I never wanted to get to the point where I was on a training field and didn't want to be there or it became a drag. Hopefully right until the end I was still enthusiastic about it. But it was time to go."
Johnson could have walked straight into most coaching jobs anywhere around the world. In fact he could have stayed at Welford Road in the way his long-time team-mate Neil Back has.
That wasn't for him, though. He hasn't ruled out a return to the Tigers at some stage but nothing in the short term.
"I wanted to have a clean break from the playing side," he said. "For my benefit it was the right thing to do - I had been playing top class rugby for 16 or 17 years and professional for ten.
"It has been very intense, my whole feeling was that it was time to take a break and see how I felt about getting back involved with somebody, somewhere, somehow.
"I will always be involved in the game whether it's doing training camps or something more hands on but that won't be for two years or so - not this year or even next year."
For now he will watch the season unfold from the stand - an experience he is not sure will be altogether pleasurable.
Leicester are desperate to win their first title since 2002 and that means resisting the late-season surge that has carried London Wasps to each of the last three crowns.
Last year the two clubs were so far out in front of their Premiership rivals that the season could have been stopped in January and the final played before the start of the Six Nations Championship.
Johnson does not anticipate such supremacy this time round. Leicester have lost both his services and those of Back as a player, as well as head coach John Wells.
Wasps will start the season without Lawrence Dallaglio, injured on tour with the British Lions, and Warren Gatland, the man who guided them to their hat-trick of championships and who has since returned to New Zealand.
In fact, Johnson cuts a rather bemused figure when asked to comment on the 12 top-flight teams in terms of likely success.
"You wouldn't put your money on anyone," he said. "But I will say there won't be the Leicester/Wasps domination of last year.
"Bath have got a very talented squad, Saracens came through towards the end of last season having underachieved for a little bit.
" Northampton underachieved, too, so they will have all that pent up disappointment from last year. And you look at a club like Leeds who struggled right until the end but they have got a lot of talent there and a tough team as well.
"That's half the division but they can all be up there. Leeds won the cup and were bottom at one point. Even Worcester did well."
Johnson was struck by the strides Warriors made in their first Premiership season and tipped them to continue their progress.
"The Heineken Cup is a possibility for them as it is any team. They could win the cup and get through - that would be a big achievement," he said.
"I was impressed with what they did last season. It is tough to do what they did. Financially they are in a good position - they had got the resources to do it - but it was still difficult to do."
Worcester's success was based on a physical pack that did the basics in the scrum and line-out better than most others. They virtually scrummaged Harlequins into National One when the two sides met.
Johnson had two opportunities to test the new boys' mettle and although he guided his side to a pair of comfortable victories he realises that Warriors did not give their best at Welford Road or even at home.
To complement their fearsome forwards Worcester have added one of his former England team- mates in scrum-half Andy Gomarsall. Johnson believes the former Gloucester man can help the Sixways side improve on last year's ninth-placed finish.
"On pure Premiership form he has probably been as good as anyone over the last five or six years," he said.