School visit has players focused on French test
Published 14/10/2016 | 02:30
We got the all-important victory over Ulster last weekend, but there are still work-ons ahead of Toulouse. And what a game that promises to be tomorrow.
It was a good week for us, and after a busy end to last week it was great for the team to get out of the Sportsground on Monday and meet some of their younger fans at Seamount College in Kinvara.
These community visits are really important to us and you could see the effect the presence of the players can have. All the staff and students made us feel extremely welcome, and the squad got a tangible lift from the visit.
Not so long ago, Kinvara was probably not a traditional rugby stronghold but you can see how the game is growing right across the province. There were a lot of flags along the route from the Sportsground to the school, and Connacht kit at the school, which is always a sure sign of the support that is there.
We have been busy planning for this week and know it will be a particularly big challenge. Inter-pro games are always extremely competitive, but ultimately the ideal preparation for Champions Cup. Last weekend's game was quick and physical and we expect more of the same this week.
We concentrated on ourselves, and the couple of marks that we wanted to hit during the week, and thankfully we got those across the line against Ulster last Friday. We are pretty happy with the win but straight away we moved onto Toulouse and this massive task.
There are, as always, a couple of areas that we would like to see improvements in.
We had a tough week last week in terms of disruption but the most pleasing thing for us as coaches was how seamlessly guys fitted in and fronted up. It was a hard build-up to Ulster, but nobody made excuses and they just got on with it. That's always important for us - players and staff expect that it is so.
There has been a lot of talk of individual displays, but the collective effort allowed the individuals to shine. However, as we went through the reviews on Monday, we identified areas where the individual, unit and collective could improve. Everyone has been working hard all week to ensure we are as well prepared as possible.
Toulouse have so much quality and experience in each position throughout their squad and they could pick any number of top-class starting combinations if they chose to. So we just can't wait to put ourselves opposite that sort of ability and see how we match up.
They have so many international players so they can adapt to any situation but we are going to try and concentrate on what works for us, and obviously they are going to try and do the same. We have identified a game-plan this week that we feel complements our strengths and we'll hope to implement it tomorrow. You can never underestimate any team that includes the likes of Gael Fickou, Alexis Pallison, Luke McAllister, Thierry Dusatoir, and Yoann Maestri to name but a few - all internationals with massive experience. It would be foolish of us to not show them the respect they deserve. They are world-class players at the top of their game. We certainly won't be cutting corners or taking anything for granted.
When we completed our first review of the Ulster game we felt there were areas we could improve on. The squad is happy but they have been positive all throughout the campaign, even when we lost the three games in a row.
Last week has given us confidence and trust in what we believe works. It is now about getting our processes right and make sure everyone is working towards the same goal. We are obviously not looking beyond Toulouse - everyone is completely focused on the job at hand.
The support right from the beginning of pre-season has been phenomenal. It's growing and growing and the noise was unbelievable against Ulster - at times in the coaching box we could hardly hear ourselves because the support was so loud.
We are looking forward to another packed house. It should be another sell-out and we've extended the ground capacity too which all adds to a brilliant atmosphere. It is going to be a fantastic occasion at the Sportsground, and one which everyone in the squad and province is looking forward to.