'It's great to have all those guys pushing for places'
Competition is fierce, but skilful centre believes he is ready to become first choice for Connacht
Published 18/11/2016 | 02:30
Connacht centre Peter Robb was in attendance at the Aviva Stadium where he watched his former school-mate, Garry Ringrose, make his Ireland debut in their thrilling 52-21 victory over Canada.
The pair went to Blackrock College together and played side by side up through the ranks, but Robb chose Galway over Dublin when he decided to join the Connacht academy and he now has a Pro12 title under his belt.
But the Stillorgan native is destined to make the step to international level too, and he has been inspired by the rise of his good friend and Leinster centre.
"I played a lot with Garry Ringrose when I was younger, I was in school with him as well," says Robb.
"He is doing great now, and it's encouraging for myself going forward when I see that. He did well for Ireland and it's really good to see young talent being exposed.
"But for now I just want to improve on my performances and hopefully that will be enough to stamp down a place in the team."
Craig Ronaldson and Bundee Aki were the star combination for reigning Pro12 champions Connacht on their way to glory last season.
But with Ronaldson out injured at the beginning of this campaign it gave the other centres their chance to stake a claim for inclusion as Connacht entered the top tier of European Rugby once again.
Despite a couple of injuries of his own, 22-year-old Robb, has thrived in this campaign and his ferocious gainline-breaking runs have been complemented nicely by some intricate offloads and wonderful footwork.
So far in 2016-'17, concussion and a hip injury have curtailed his involvement on the field, but gradually he has regained his fitness and he says it's all about keeping a positive attitude when the niggling injuries inevitably set in.
"I was thrilled to get the contract extension, a few of us were given them at the same time so it's great going forward that they have confidence in us.
"It's nice to be moving forward with things, hopefully I can establish myself for a more regular starter this season. I am getting a good bit more game-time and hopefully I can stay injury-free. I had a bit of concussion, and a hip problem but hopefully if I can keep clear of them I can move on.
"It is frustrating, it is never nice getting injuries. But you have to think of guys who are out for longer periods than you are and it could always be worse. There are lads there with knee injuries that might be out for six months or a year.
"When you see what happened to John Cooney and Eoghan Masterson it puts things into perspective for you. It is disappointing but you have to think of the other side of the spectrum too."
Robb's huge presence in the Connacht midfield is no doubt an asset going forward but there is plenty more to his game that just brute force in attack.
Along with Dave Ellis, Robb has looked to fine-tune the more complex parts of his game in 2016-'17, and the results are there to see.
Even despite the couple of injury setbacks, he has played five times for Connacht this season, and he knows it's down to hard work he is putting in off the field too.
"There are always work-ons, but I am fairly happy with my ball-carrying. But the other parts need to be worked on. I want to keep improving my skills, my expression with the ball in hand and my footwork going into contact, that would be something I am always looking at.
"The fundamentals like the breakdown are always essential too, and I keep looking to improve on them in training.
"Dave Ellis is great for the extra stuff. He is always good if you need any help with extra skills. He puts in a lot of time outside of the pitch sessions and we will definitely miss him when he is gone."
But even as Robb continues to evolve and sharpen his game, there are a whole host of Connacht centres doing likewise.
The competition is rife in the midfield of Connacht sumptuous backline, and with so many different options, coach Lam is afforded the chance to chop and change depending on the opposition.
But as Connacht continue to focus on their own game this season, it's crucial that players put their best case forward for automatic inclusion week in, week out.
Every player is given their fair chance on the training ground, but they know if they take their chance on the field of play it will go a long way towards featuring at the weekend.
Robb knows he must keep putting in those hard yards, but he is confident the hard work will pay off in the end.
"Centres always have the little catch-up during the week, whether it is looking at the analysis of thing we can do better from the previous week or looking ahead to the next game.
"The backline meet up as a group and we all come together in our groups too. We always link and chat about whatever needs to be sorted out during the week.
"You have got Craig Ronaldson and Bundee Aki, and they are always the tough competition in there. Rory Parata is doing well as well and Eoin Griffin is another great player too.
"It's great to have all of those guys there pushing for places because you are always on your toes and you never get comfortable - it really drives you on at the end of the day."