Friday 2 December 2016

Player Diary: The aim is to crown a memorable Russian trip with a convincing win

Denis Buckley

Published 13/11/2015 | 02:30

Kieran Marmion at the Mazda Rugby Roadshow in Athlone
Kieran Marmion at the Mazda Rugby Roadshow in Athlone

This has been one of the most unique weeks in my rugby career, and at nearly 6,000km from home I doubt I'll ever play a game of rugby somewhere like this again.

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So far Russia has been an amazing experience for all of us. Everything we read and were told about the country has been confirmed and the welcome we have been given by everyone here in Krasnoyarsk has been something to remember.

To start the week we were delighted to pick up the win against Treviso at the Sportsground, which sent us to the top of the Pro12 ahead of our European campaign.

As some commentators said afterwards, it didn't look like we were playing a team winless in the competition and I think that summed it up. Treviso played some really good rugby and they outplayed and surprised us at times.

Credit to them, they were pretty smart: they didn't want to kick the ball to us because they know we are a good counter-attacking team and that we've scored a lot of tries from teams kicking to us. They had their homework done and put lots of phases together.

It was tough to defend. Even from their own 22 they were happy to hold on to the ball for 10 or 15 phases. It was really tough going and one of the biggest defensive performances we've had to put in all season.

Intense

That first-half was very intense and fast, but we recovered well at half-time, got our bearings a bit and came up with a gameplan for what they were doing. We got some territory and executed one or two plays that we had lined up for them and split them open a couple of times.

Once again myself and a few of the other players spent Sunday with the Mazda Rugby Roadshow, this time we were a little closer to home in Athlone at Buccaneers.

Despite the horrible weather it was great to see so many young rugby players from the region togged out for the event. We did the usual few drills and had a mini game, but we were all pretty impressed with the skill levels on display. There is some seriously talented players from the surrounding areas!

The build-up to this week's game has been very different to most weeks. Here in Connacht everything is a team exercise, so even those players that were not going to Russia had to be in at 6.20am on Monday morning in time for the early session.

A few weeks ago, the feeling was that I wasn't going but obviously things change so regularly in this environment so on Monday I got the nod to get the passport ready. It was funny, we all had to come in on Monday prepared as if we were going - only the injured players were definitely not making the trip.

On Monday and Tuesday we had pitch sessions early in the morning at the same time that we'll be playing tomorrow. It takes a while to get used to the time difference, so adjusting the body clocks as early as possible was a good idea. It's like getting to Russia a day or two early.

The coaches and S&C department have put a lot of thought into our preparation. Pat and some of the other coaches are used to travelling long distances from their Super Rugby days, so there must be method to the madness!

Along with a few die-hard fans and a couple of local journalists, we took off from Shannon on Tuesday evening at 7.0pm and after more than four hours our charter flight landed in Moscow at 2.30am local time.

After a short stopover to refuel and to stretch the legs, we were off again for another four-and-a-half hour flight to Krasnoyarsk, where we eventually landed near noon local time on Wednesday. By the time we got to the hotel we were all fairly shattered - we had lunch and some time to rest before the first training session … indoors thankfully!

But we are all really well taken care of here. We're staying at the Hilton Gardens hotel and it's top notch. While the temperatures have dropped into the double digits below freezing, the dry air means it doesn't feel quite as cold as we'd expected.

The talk here is that they have a lot of tickets sold for this game and that we could be playing in front of a crowd of 20,000 people or more, so that will be exciting.

Our Eagles team have played Enisei a few times in the last few years so we know what to expect. Their team has changed a bit over the years, but they are a big, physical abrasive side and they don't shy away from contact.

They come hard at you, their set-piece is strong. Recent footage of them is hard to come by, but we are as well prepared as we possibly can be.

It instances like this, it's up to us to focus on our own game and executing that well.

Last year we rotated the squad a bit for the away games in Europe, and we know that we will have to rely on everyone available in this hectic period. This time round the Challenge Cup winners get straight into the Champions Cup which adds a bit more spice to the competition. We set out at the start of the season to win every game and I believe we have a strong Connacht team that is here to win.

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