Rugby: In case you blinked - it's a new season already

Rugby season finished last weekend at Twickenham.

It starts again today when the Highlanders assemble in Dunedin.

Training begins on Monday for the squad, though it will be minus the All Blacks.

It was initially thought those who had been on the Maori All Black tour would miss training before Christmas but most who went on that three-match tour will front up today.

While it may seem early to be training, some players have not played since the middle of October and the first pre-season game is less than eight weeks away.

It will be something of a new era, as Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph is joined by his new assistants, Scott McLeod and Jon Preston. Graham Purvis is also on board as the new manager.

About 25 squad members and wider squad members should begin training, which will run for two weeks, finishing on December 22.

The players will then have a break and return to training about January 8.

The All Blacks will slowly filter back in. Most of them are not expected to clock in until early February.

New captain Andrew Hore will miss the three pre-season games and the opening match of the competition because of his suspension.

Japanese-based players Jake Paringatai and Brad Thorn are also not expected back until some time in February.

The team will go through some administration work over the weekend before training begins on Monday.

The Highlanders' first pre-season game is against the Chiefs in Taupo on February 2.

They play the Crusaders in Oamaru on February 8, and the Blues in Queenstown on February 15.

The side opens its Super 15 campaign against the Chiefs at Forsyth Barr Stadium on February 22.