Robbie Henshaw: Coming up against Jared will be weird but we are ready for action
Published 10/04/2015 | 02:30
I wonder has there ever been four Connacht rugby matches with so much riding on them? Tomorrow we host Ulster - always a tough assignment - and in two weeks' time the Glasgow Warriors also come to the Sportsground, before Zebre away and Ospreys at home round off the campaign.
We are all blue in the face going through all the permutations of where we might finish and what everyone else will do, but it boils down to one simple fact: we need to take as many points as possible from the 20 on offer to secure a Champions Cup position.
That quest for points has to start tomorrow and while we are at it, we may as well start with a fresh sheet in our record against Ulster.
Over the years they have been a bit of a bogey team for us, but even our performance at the Kingspan Stadium over the Christmas was a real encouragement for us.
We came away with a three-point defeat and a losing bonus point. We performed well against a pretty strong side and that was a boost.
Tomorrow, with the Sportsground packed, we are confident that we can reverse that result. If we were to win, we'd also achieve one of the goals we set by beating all of the other provinces at the Sportsground in one season.
That's something we have yet to do in our history, but we should be buoyed by the way we played and beat both Leinster and Munster in Galway. There is no reason why we cannot do it against Ulster too.
I suppose a lot of people will be looking closely at the teams when they are announced today to see if both myself and Jared Payne are playing.
I don't think I have ever come in direct opposition against him, and if he lines up opposite me at No 12 or No 13 it will be a little bit strange. We have gotten to know each other's games inside out in the last couple of months of Ireland duty and this week has been all about plotting a way past him and his team-mates.
I'm looking forward to it, but they are a side packed with talented players. You'd have to imagine they'll be coming down with a full-strength squad, and if they do I'll be taking on quite a few of my Irish teammates: Rory Best, Paddy Jackson, Darren Cave, Craig Gilroy, Iain Henderson. . . it's a lengthy list!
But still, I think we have enough firepower to deal with their threats.
Despite last weekend's defeat to Gloucester, there are plenty of good things to take from the game.
While we are know the first half was not good enough and we deserved to trail by two tries at half-time, I thought we were by far the better team after the restart.
At times before half-time our kicking was loose. More often than not we managed to pick out their full-back, wingers and half-backs instead of finding a patch of grass. That cost us points and they even managed to get a lucky bounce for their second try.
But the positives were there. Our scrum was dominant from start to finish. It's great to have that security and knowledge that we can rely on good ball from the set-piece.
Our maul worked pretty well too and our try came off it. It went down as a penalty try in the end, but I was lucky to tag on the bag of the rolling maul and get the downward pressure on the ball.
Thankfully the referee saw they infringed and with the penalty try, we had the handy conversion in front of the posts.
Right across the board we were better in the second half and if that first try had come a bit earlier or if we had another five or ten minutes left, I think they would have caved in.
Who knows what could have happened in extra-time then?
After getting back home, I signed up for more disappointment on Sunday when I went along to see Westmeath play Roscommon in the football in Mullingar. It was great to have the day off so I could join a few of my schoolmates to see the game - it's not often that happens - and a couple more of them, Ray and John Connellan, were actually playing for Westmeath.
Unfortunately, the result went the wrong way for those of us born on the Westmeath side of the border in Athlone, and Jack Carty and Denis Buckley looked pretty happy with themselves all week. Maybe the Rossies getting promoted had something to do with it!
Thankfully everything has gone really well in training all week. The aches of the weekend soon disappeared and we feel we have put a plan in place that can give us the win tomorrow.
We had a good review of the game and identified a few things that can be tweaked.
I think if we manage to bring the good stuff we did against Gloucester and improve on the things that didn't go well, we are in with a right chance of winning.
Every team is fighting for points in the next few weeks and with the top eight or nine teams still in the hunt there's no doubt you are going to see some real surprise results along the way.
In our eyes it won't come as a surprise if we win tomorrow - we expect to - and the four points is just what we need now.
I can't wait to get back playing at a heaving Sportsground, and hopefully we're all in good humour afterwards.