Mixing up coaching team keeps things fresh
It's always interesting playing the same team back to back and that's what makes this particular time in Europe pretty special. The opposition is fresh in your mind and having played them in the first leg, you can fix and alter certain things for the next week.
After five years in the analyst role, this is my first season in an official coaching capacity as well. I've been doing some coaching under Pat for the last couple of seasons but having the title now brings more responsibility and with that comes accountability.
As an analyst, you're usually watching footage and giving information like stats and trends to the coaches. But as a coach now, I get to deliver on what I'm observing and analysing to the players and coaches in meetings, which is something I'm really enjoying.
Another part of the role I'm relishing is the process of helping coming up with the weekly game-plans. This involves working with Pat Lam on our attack systems for the weekend.
There is obviously a Connacht style of play and things we keep consistent from week to week but we're constantly looking at the opposition for chinks in their armour.
We need to be adaptable and be able to exploit the potential weaknesses we've highlighted through analysis.
I might come up with some ideas on that and then sit with Pat to put the finer detail on it before we deliver it to the other coaches.
We'll have certain maps and strike plays so we'd need to talk to Jimmy Duffy on the forwards or Andre Bell on the backs to ensure that these moves will fit in to the systems there.
Then Dave Ellis takes the skills area and mini units sessions to work on those moves and plays.
So it really takes the integration of all five coaches to pull it off.
This season we've been pretty successful on our first-phase attack. We have scored 16 tries from first-phase play which I think is the highest in the Pro12. That means that the process of identifying weaknesses in the opposition defence is working.
We're scoring off strike play and first phase, which is the hardest time to score as this is when defences are set. So from a coaching as well as analysis point of view, that's very pleasing.
One of my other weekly responsibilities is analysing the opposition's attack patterns. During the training sessions, I will direct the non-selected players to run the opposition attack, against the Connacht starting XV's defence.
We have a really good dynamic with the five coaches here. We all have our certain areas of expertise but Pat gives us the freedom to voice our opinions across all aspects of the game.
In training sessions, the coaches regularly rotate our areas of focus. For example, some weeks I might be doing attack breakdown, Dave might be doing tackling, Andre could be on the jackal and Jimmy on ball carrying. The change is great for us and also a refreshing voice for the players and I believe this is making us better all-round coaches.
Every training session we have at least two angles of footage and we review every session closely as a group, looking at techniques that work or areas where we can get better.
It's very fine detail but that's what can give you the edge each week. All these 'one percenters' can make a big difference at the end of a long season.
This is Pat's third year in charge and the majority of the players' third year under his tutelage. We are at the stage now where we are tinkering with certain things and refining the fine detail in all aspects of our game. This cannot happen in year one - it's been three years of hard work from both the players and management to get us to where we are now.
We've invested heavily in our technology when it comes to our analysis but we also have extra man power. I have a full-time assistant, Sean, and part-time intern, Victor, working with me now whereas two years ago it was a one-man department. That allows me a lot more time for the coaching side of things.
Hopefully our analysis pays off this week and we get the win in Newcastle which will leave us in a strong position in Europe going into the new year.