SAINTS boss Ralph Hasenhuttl revealed the blow of missing out on a pre-season training camp in Austria due to travel restrictions, but quipped: “Riding the bike through New Forest is nearly the same as the mountains.”

The Austrian manager’s squad had been due to undertake a camp in his homeland as preparations for the new season stepped up a gear, but COVID-induced restrictions put a stop to those hopes.

Part of that trip may have involved scaling mountains, with the country famed for its gorgeous Alps amongst other ranges.

Instead, the team were pictured riding bikes through New Forest as part of a fitness and team-bonding exercise, before a mini-tour of Wales brings pre-season friendlies against Cardiff and Swansea at the end of July.

This aside, Saints have been relishing the opportunity to have a “normal” pre-season once again.

Speaking to BBC Radio Solent, Hasenhuttl said: “At the moment, nearly everything is normal, the only thing that was not normal is that we couldn’t go to our training camp in Austria because we couldn’t travel.

“But in the end we have wonderful weather and fantastic conditions, what we wanted to do there we can do here, nearly.

“We can’t climb the mountains but everything else is possible. Riding the bike through New Forest is nearly the same as the mountains!”

Football teams across the world were plunged into the unknown last year, after a forced postponement of leagues – including the Premier League – due to the coronavirus pandemic meant games were being played well into summer.

With the previous campaign ending on July 26 and once players + staff had had a break, a normal 2020-21 pre-season was certainly not possible, while the hangover of Covid restrictions still scuppered plans too.

The Premier League did not start until midway through September last season, a month later than the August 13 start date for the upcoming 2021-22 campaign.

“We have no excuses anymore,” Hasenhuttl joked. “It’s always helpful to have a pre-season.

“The last two weeks we had here we can only work on our physics and this is something we didn’t have last year, for the players it’s a very tough pre-season, there’s talk about maybe the toughest they’ve had.

“This is important for us as we want to be one of the fittest teams in the league, we want to be tactically one of the best teams in the league, we want to concede last goals than last year, and finally our offensive more transition, quicker transition, these are the topics for the pre-season.

“When we are improving every part of this, the target is for 10th position, we know that we have to outperform if we want to reach this. But we showed in 2020 that we can outperform for a long time, this is the target we set ourselves.

“I’m very pleased at the moment, they have all come back fit otherwise they wouldn’t be able to do the first two weeks of intensive training.”