Brain training is already paying off - it can make a difference on the pitch
Published 29/01/2016 | 02:30
We might have gone the roundabout way of getting there, but we are in the quarter-finals and still on course to go further in the Challenge Cup.
There is no doubt we were made to work hard for that win against Enisei at the Sportsground. Eight tries and a big winning margin might not suggest that, but Sunday and Monday certainly saw plenty of sore bodies and physio sessions for the group.
We set out at the start of last week a little bit disappointed from the Brive result. It was a game that we know we didn't perform in at all, and even without playing particularly well, we had every chance to win there.
The fact that we knew what we needed to do to top the pool before that game meant we were even more annoyed to lose, but it meant that we set out with the goal of getting five points against Enisei this week. Thankfully we achieved it, and the other game in Newcastle went our way too.
We definitely put ourselves under a bit more pressure last week in the preparations for Enisei. We were on edge a bit for sure.
Competition for places is heating up too with lads coming back from injury, so that 'on your toes' mentality certainly drove the standards all week.
Pat Lam's comments in the lead-up to the game echoed what we had spoken about ourselves in the last week. When you lose back-to-back games in the last minute you dig down to find a reason and we all wondered if we had let our standards slip a bit.
That came from us as individuals, but we put the pressure on each other to up the standards in that regard and I think it had an immediate effect.
When you score eight tries you always hope to get on the scoresheet. I could even have had two for my day's work, but I had and early try disallowed for a forward pass. But thankfully I got another chance late in the half from a maul about ten metres out, and I got in from the ruck after the maul collapsed.
But getting some good minutes under my belt and getting through my first start after the injury was most important. The ankle held up really well and I was happy with how other aspects of my game went too. It was good to be back and it has given me the confidence that my injury is behind me.
We can't wait for Grenoble. France has been good to me - I've only ever lost there once playing for Connacht and that was two weeks ago. It is definitely somewhere we can go and win.
We can park it and focus on the Pro12 and know we have that reward down the line.
While most of the lads finished up early on Monday, I have been doing some neuro-feedback training all season so I stayed in a bit longer. The 'brain training' is conducted by a company called Actualise and studies have shown that it can help the brain of an elite athlete to learn how to work in a more efficient way.
It reads your brain waves while you're watching a movie or video game, and the action turns off and on depending on what part of your brain activates. The idea is that over time, with repeated sessions your brain can make a targeted area work as required.
I'm doing it for cognitive function which should help my decision making on the pitch. I've done about 12 sessions and they tell me the changes have been massive in my scores.
Some of the lads have reported improved levels of focus during games and training sessions and reduced levels of anxiety on match days.
And I've noticed that things like sleep patterns and small day-to-day functions seem to have improved. I think it is having a positive effect, so there is no harm in giving it an hour a week.
Our immediate focus swings back to the Pro12 now, and if we can get a win this weekend against Scarlets then we will be right back in the thick of things at the top.
The last few weeks people have been disappointed with how results have gotten away from us - that Scarlets game in particular was one we should have closed out, so this is a great opportunity to fix a couple of those wrongs.
Scarlets will be different opposition from Enisei but what was pleasing is that we set out our goal of four tries and we were very clinical in achieving that. It's no different this weekend. We need to convert our chances into points.
Meanwhile, we were all lifted massively when we heard that Finlay Bealham was called up to the Ireland squad. The work he has put into his game this season is a real credit to him. He has played in every single game for us and on the back of some great form his call up is richly deserved.
If you had asked him 12 months ago if he expected to be in the Ireland squad so soon he probably would have said no. But if people could see the hard work he has put in in the last 12 months, and the form he has in training and in matches, it's fully deserved. We're all thrilled for him.
I'd love to be there with him, but I know that if I'm called upon at some stage in the future, I'll be ready to play my part.