TOM BRADSHAW: West rugby clubs already looking towards next season
We are just five matches into what coaches often call the 'marathon' of the English rugby season - but that doesn't mean recruitment plans for 2013-14 aren't already well under way.
To continue that running metaphor, those clubs that aren't already planning their squad for next term risk being stuck in the blocks.
Premiership regulations prohibit clubs from talking to outside players before January 1 but you can bet your bottom line that shortlists are being drawn up.
Agents are already teeing up players for next season, ready to hit the phones come New Year's Day.
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The key thing for clubs to do at this stage is to finalise which of their current players they want to retain and which will be told 'thanks, but no thanks'.
So now is a good time to survey the scene - and things look pretty interesting across the West.
I was impressed by Exeter a couple of weeks ago. We were still in September yet the Chiefs announced contract extensions for two players, including the ever-reliable Matt Jess.
The winger played every single minute of last season's Premiership campaign - the only player in the league to accomplish such a feat - and has begun this season in a similar Duracell Bunny vein.
With that record, he's the kind of club player every head coach wants. Small wonder Rob Baxter has nailed his boots to the floor already.
The Chiefs start from a strong negotiating position. They are playing Heineken Cup rugby this season - the only club in the West to have qualified for that honour - and are rightly seen as a growing club with potential that's being steadily realised. Players, particularly those who are already with the Chiefs, will be keen to stick around.
Things are likely to be a bit more fluid at Gloucester and Bath. By my reckoning, Gloucester have 19 players out of contract at the end of this season, while Bath have 15 or 16.
Looking at Bath, it is at scrum-half, centre and back-row where a lot of players are out of contract, so these would be the obvious places where change could occur.
Take the centres. Dan Hipkiss, Ben Williams, Matt Banahan and Sam Vesty all in the final year of their deals, so midfield formations will be occupying much of Gary Gold's thinking.
There could be some additions before the end of the year, with the money freed up by Olly Barkley's departure being put to use.
There is speculation that Nick Koster of the Stormers could join, although I understand that could be subject to him convincing Bath that his injury-troubled knee is fully recovered.
There have also been some rumblings that a Southern Hemisphere prop could be on his way. Either way, recruitment starts now, not January 1.