Fergus McFadden exclusive: It's do or die for us - but I know we can win this
Having been passed fit to return, it's great to be back in the mix for this massive week for Leinster Rugby
It is hard to believe that the end of April is nearly upon us with the play-offs in one competition and the semi-finals in another just around the corner.
The home quarter-final in the Aviva against Bath feels like a distant memory. But that is how quick things feel at the moment with the pressure increasing with every game and the games themselves coming week on week. So where are we at now? That Bath performance was enough on the day but we are under no illusions that the level we produced in the Aviva will not be enough to beat Toulon in Marseille.
We don't need much reminding of how good Toulon are. It's just over a year on from our disappointing loss away in Stade Felix Mayol. We as a team are wiser a year on though and I think we can use that loss to our advantage now by looking at the areas they dominated to beat us convincingly.
If you look at that game we were level at half-time but, crucially, they got some lucky breaks at the start of the second half to stretch ahead. But you make your own luck and they forced the turnovers and increased the pressure on us. We have to be better than that this time around.
Since Bath we have obviously had the disappointment of the Dragons loss. Personally, it was a slow and frustrating week as I was following all the necessary return to play protocols after getting concussed at the start of the second half of the Bath match. In a game of that importance, you never want to go off but it was the right call and had to be made. I was able to return to the bench a little while later and was delighted the boys went on to close out the win for us.
As for the knock itself, the incident was fairly innocuous as I caught a shoulder flush on the jaw whilst carrying the ball. But that is why it is so important that people understand the ins and outs of concussion. It's not always the obvious huge hits. John Fogarty, a former Leinster hooker but now working as a coach, spoke very well about concussion last week on 'Second Captains Live'. He had to retire because of concussions. It really is an issue that deserves the attention it's getting and incidents like mine against Bath I suppose reinforce to everyone watching that no matter the stakes, you take the player off.
That tackle could happen again on Sunday and I'd be fine but you have to watch out for the signs and the doctors and medical staff made the right call at the time. After that they made sure that I took a few days off my feet at the start of the week before going back in to tick the boxes needed as part of the return to play protocols before I returned to full training. Thankfully, I was passed fit to play and can't wait to get back in the mix for this huge week for the club.
The loss last weekend away to the Dragons was a big blow to our play-off hopes. It was a really strong first half from Leinster and it looked like we would go on and potentially pick up all five points after running in two good tries from Ben Te'o and Jimmy Gopperth before the half-time break. It was not to be however as the Welsh side slowly wore us down and began a strong comeback when Ben was sinbinned, unfairly I thought, for an illegal tackle with no arms.
It's an interesting topic. Look at my experience the week before against Bath getting knocked out by a no-arms shoulder to the face from Kyle Eastmond which resulted in no penalty or yellow card. There was no malice from Eastmond and I was very impressed after when I saw how Eastmond and Matt Banahan reacted to my injury. But it does seem like a grey area and is open to interpretation which is not ideal as I thought Ben was making the effort to use his arms when he collided.
However, in saying that, we did not do ourselves any favours during that period and conceded two tries and let the Dragons get right back into it from a 22-8 deficit. Coming away from there with a loss was gutting for us and as things stand in the league, it does not look good as we are eight points outside the play-off places. We need wins and favours elsewhere.
However, all roads now lead to the Stade Velodrome for the semi against Toulon, the current European champions.
It's a huge challenge for us and we are in no doubt that we will need to produce our best performance of the season to beat them. Going over to France and beating Toulon would go down as one of Leinster's best ever wins away in Europe ... it's do or die and I know we can do it!