It's great to be back to winning ways after enjoyable Ireland test
Published 02/12/2016 | 02:30
I was busier than I thought I would be back at the Sportsground last weekend, but I was delighted to get on the field for Connacht as we picked up four valuable points against Cardiff Blues.
Pat Lam rang me earlier last week, wondering if I would be prepared to go on the bench on Friday. I only had that 80 minutes against Canada and other than that I had not played so I was happy enough to be among the replacements.
Then I was thinking I was going to get 15 or 20 minutes at the end, but when Craig Ronaldson went down after 27 minutes it was a different story. I was happy to get the game-time and we got the much-needed win.
When I was younger, if I was on the bench I would be a bit more relaxed, thinking I might only make my introduction late on. But Pat has put a big emphasis on the replacements making a massive impact. You can't afford to ease yourself into the game - you have to be ready from the first minute.
Even in the warm-up I try to switch on straight away and act as if I am starting. You are more prepared for any situation then, and when someone goes down you can slot in seamlessly.
With experience you constantly learn new things about yourself and your game, and I had a great few weeks up in Irish camp once again. Every time you are up in camp you train at such an intensity and all of the meetings go into such detail that you feel like you're growing as a player each time.
You are training with guys up there who have serious international experience, so that in itself is making you better. And getting 80 minutes against Canada - my first home game for Ireland - was huge. That game was pretty much sold-out and to cap it off with two tries was special.
Overall, I ended up in camp for about three-and-a-half weeks. You do learn lots and even off other people, in reviews and things like that, you pick up small things here and there. It all helps you going forward and just being in that environment helps you when you come back to your province too.
It's back to Connacht now and I have to work hard to get back in the team. Matt Healy has returned from injury as well so the back-three competition has really stepped up a notch.
We have some huge games coming up here, with back-to-back Champions Cup games against Wasps. It doesn't get much bigger than that.
I just want to work on my consistency, but first I need to find a place in the team once again. I need to put in some solid performances for Connacht first and then I can work towards February and potentially pulling on an Ireland jersey again.
In terms of the Guinness Pro12, before the break we were massively disappointed with the result away to Dragons.
But it was great to bounce back last weekend, especially when you are at home in front of a sell-out crowd with an international the following day. That side of things just shows where our support is at the moment and it really gives us a boost too.
Ideally we would have liked a few more tries and to have pushed for a bonus point in that game, but the vital thing was the win and just to get ourselves back to winning ways and where we want to be in terms of a performance.
We cannot afford too many slip-ups going forward and it will be a really testing festive period with the interprovincial derbies taking centre stage.
Treviso will be tricky opposition tomorrow too - they had a disappointing loss against Munster last weekend but will have a few internationals back this week after their November campaign finished up.
It's the same as always with Treviso; they will be very physical, will use their pack a lot and will try and get a dominant scrum as well. Our forwards know they need to front up there. The backs know that if we can get some good quality ball we can do some damage tomorrow afternoon.
We're back at home again where we've won the last four games, so it's important we impose ourselves in those first 20 minutes, get an early lead and push on from there. It's going to be difficult but we must put the heads down.
Against Treviso last year, we didn't get our bonus point at the Sportsground, and with two games left in the regular season we were first in the Pro12 and we lost on the road against them which prevented us from finishing top of the table.
We have some big players coming back from injury right now and we need guys to be as sharp as they can be. If we could get another win this weekend that would be two on the bounce going into the Champions Cup with a lot of confidence.
At the same time we know we face a stiff challenge when we do get back into Europe. Going over to the Ricoh Arena, it's set up to be a great game of rugby and an incredible atmosphere with lots of Connacht fans travelling.
Wasps play a similar brand of rugby to us and have got internationals all over the pitch. It will be interesting to see how the weather turns out and what sort of a game we can look forward to.
But in the meantime, it's all about getting a Pro12 victory against the Italians this weekend to give us a good platform moving forward.