Time for us to ramp the pressure up on our rivals
Published 08/05/2015 | 02:30
The important thing this weekend is getting the win and putting the pressure back on those teams ahead of us in the race for sixth spot and automatic qualification into the Champions Cup.
It is vital because we want to be going into the final round of matches knowing that we still have a chance of qualifying when we play the Ospreys at home next week.
The mood has been excellent in the Sportsground over the last couple of weeks. I mentioned last week that the players were determined to get back into the thick of the action and we did a lot of work on areas where we felt we weren't up to scratch.
This week was a continuation of that but it was another big step up in intensity as we get back into game mode.
As usual we're not talking anything like bonus points or posting big scores: the performance is what we are really after. If we get the performance, the outcome will take care of itself and this is what we have focused on all season.
We have realised if we are all at our best then we have a great chance of getting the outcomes we crave and this is what has been driving us all season.
That and also the realisation that we are coming to the end of the season and this is always an exciting period for any team especially when there is Champions Cup places up for grabs.
We know what to expect tomorrow over in Parma: Zebre are a strong team at home who have a good pack and they have an experienced and dangerous operator with Brendon Leonard directing them around the park from scrum-half.
They have got quality throughout their squad with the amount of Italian internationals they have as well - the Bergamascos, Marco Bortolami, they have a lot of experience in the Six Nations and even World Cup stages so they aren't short of leaders.
They have got some dangerous ball carriers so our tackle quality will need to be high to nullify these threats. We need to put some pressure on their skills because if you give them time and space, they're dangerous and they can hurt you from all over the park.
We saw that certainly in their last home game where they were very unlucky to lose in the 82nd minute against Scarlets, and we don't want to put ourselves in a similar situation to that tomorrow.
We don't like to focus too much on where they may be weak because from our point of view it's all about our performance, get that right and this will be the deciding factor in us getting the outcome we desire.
We respect and understand their style of play and our main concern is making sure that we step it up another level and apply pressure.
It's always difficult going over to Zebre because you have to factor in the circumstances outside of the game itself in order to understand why some teams don't perform out there and that makes the Italians such a threat to play against away from home.
Our week started on Monday morning with a good clarity session on how we want to play against Zebre followed by individual skills sessions and weights.
We had a very good team defence session on Tuesday focusing on the threats that Zebre will pose. Thursday's session was all about us being sharp in our team attack before making the bus trip to Dublin in preparation for our 7am flight to Italy this morning.
We fly into Milan before taking another bus trip to the hotel in Parma. After some light lunch and refreshments the team are in the hands of John Muldoon for the captain's run at Stadio XXV Aprille.
The forecast this week in Parma is for high humidity and temperatures in the mid 20s which is obviously a change to the west of Ireland at the moment.
In preparation for this our nutritionist Marcus Shortall has briefed the players on protocols and recommendations with how to deal with the sudden changes to ensure best physical performance.
On another note, instead of our usual management run at 7.30 on match day morning we will be running at 5.15am for the charity Pieta House. We will be doing our own 5km run known as 'Darkness into Light' which will be going on all over Ireland at the same time.
We are running to support the charity that helps prevent suicide and self-harm.