Collective strength has lads aiming for play-offs
We are all delighted to have achieved our primary objective of earning Champions Cup rugby for next season. And after the win against Munster, we feel that there is still plenty that we need to improve on in the weeks to come. Our focus quickly turns to Treviso in two weeks.
It was a pretty good performance overall last weekend, but the most pleasing thing for us was that we recovered our composure after we went off-message a little bit in the first 25 minutes. Munster attacked very well early on, but we knew we could put them under some pressure if we just stuck to what we had trained.
As forwards' coach, it's quite different for me than a supporter on match day. The coaching team are set up in the crow's nest and watch the game together. We each have our focus areas which we concentrate on for the game. My focus goes from set-piece to set-piece and I try not to get involved in watching the game too much, which can be difficult, particularly the close games. You could end up spectating, and miss important problems or opportunities, but it's very important for me to stick to my role.
During the game, I will watch the first set-piece, be it an attacking or defensive lineout, scrum, or restart. I could end up watching that for a few minutes after it takes place, looking for early cues or confirmation of something we had identified in the opposition preview in the week leading up to the game. Some of which we will present to the players on iPads at half-time. I tend to miss portions of the game as a result, until I go home afterwards and have a look.
Firstly, we were happy with our return from the scrum. There is always a bit of feeling each other out in the first two or three, before you get a clear picture of what your opponents are trying to achieve and what tactical adjustments we may need to make to counteract them. We had a good look at what Munster were doing and I think we worked well to counteract that. Our objective off scrums is to launch our attack, rather than looking to scrum for penalties. It's always a real battle and can be hard to referee, but at the weekend I thought the players problem-solved relatively well.
Collectively, we worked very hard and got a decent return. We got a few good launches, got our attack flowing well off the back, and we managed to get guys over the gain-line a few times.
On the debit side, the lads were very annoyed to concede a try from a rolling maul, which is something we've prided ourselves on. I've looked back at it a number of times and we got our defensive set-up wrong and the collective suffered as a result. But we addressed that at Thursday's review and the hope is that we don't concede that way again. It was a well-constructed maul to be fair to Munster though, so credit to them too.
After the game the lads were all off until yesterday morning, when all the preparation and focus turned to the Treviso match. Having had the Grenoble trip last week, the lads have had a few really physical outings, so they were deserving of a good recharge for a few days. It has been a strenuous season.
This campaign has been an interesting one. In planning the season, we identified a number of key challenges, not least the 16 weeks in a row because of the World Cup and it was something the coaching team spoke about at length.
We agreed that it would be illogical to think we'd get through the season with the same group of players week in, week out, so there was a real reliance on the whole squad and particularly the younger fellas to earn their stripes. They needed to step up when they got their opportunity, and all of them took their chance when they got it.
Our mantra is that when someone comes in they have to fit in to the system rather than trying to make a big individual impression. That has made it a bit easier on the younger guys. Once they do their job and execute, the collective rings through.
Early this week, six of the lads were up at Ireland camp which is great for them and for the club. We're in regular contact with the national coaches who have come down on a number of occasions to catch up on the development of players. Seeing those guys heading up to camp is a boost to everyone, which can only be good for Irish and Connacht rugby.