Isa Nacewa: Those five new Irish caps a real source of pride
It has been a good start to season but there's a huge month coming up in both the Pro12 and in Europe
As we sat on the floor in Parma airport watching the Ireland game in Chicago, all of us huddled around Stephen McCarthy's laptop - our team photographer from Sportsfile - there was a certain sense of quiet satisfaction. Not at having sourced a Wi-Fi signal, which was an achievement in itself, but at the block of work that we had put behind us.
Every season is the same. You set out with goals and targets but there are never any guarantees. So again this season, we set ourselves clear objectives about where we wanted to be at the end of each block, and I suppose if we look after those blocks the end of the season run-in looks after itself.
But you don't have to look too far to see that the best-laid plans can come tumbling down around you. At this point last season we had a decent start in the Guinness Pro12 but only one losing bonus point to show for our efforts in Europe. We were seriously on the back foot with a trip to Toulon ahead.
This season the landscape is very different, and I think we can be very positive about where we are at and yet be honest enough to realise that there is a massive amount that we can be better at.
The support at the RDS has been immense this season. Every game. A great energy from the stands but I suppose the Connacht game was another level again. A full house and both sets of supporters going at it for 80 minutes, creating an atmosphere like no other. The Aviva game against Munster was a special occasion too. We never under-appreciate the effort it takes to get to the Aviva, the additional cost involved etc, so to walk out in front of 40,000-plus people was very special.
As we now park that first block we all now need to redouble our efforts as it is a huge month for the club, but on behalf of all the players and coaches, thank you for the support to date.
Another positive so far has been the form of our younger players. We saw it at the weekend against Canada, so a well-deserved mention to our four newly-capped Irish heroes - Garry Ringrose, Dan Leavy, Luke McGrath and James Tracy.
It is so satisfying seeing the new talent at Leinster breaking through onto the Irish scene. Is it a disadvantage for us here preparing for games and being without them? Of course it is, but we prefer to look at the positives. Such as the opportunities afforded to the players that are here in their absence and also - and we say it time and time again - that we want our players playing at the highest level, so we all, as a club, take huge pride when those squads are announced.
Talking about the four lads, don't forget to throw in Joey Carbery's rise to stardom - and we now have five new international players who have worked their bullocks off (I am being creative with my spelling there!) and that were doing pre-season with Leinster a few short months ago. They are a credit to themselves, to the club, to their families and an inspiration to young players across Leinster and Ireland. Hard work really does pay off.
The rest of the squad rolls on during a week with no games. There is some time off and some lads went to Madrid, others to New York, but we were all back this week.
There is a lot of hard work for us to prepare for Scarlets, who we face next Friday. We went down against them last year and they are coming off a very impressive comeback win against Bath in the LV Cup. Getting a head start in our preparation is key.
These are big learning weeks for us with a tighter group of players, but it is also a chance to put in some hard yards. Leo and Stuart will have a few treats up their sleeve to test us mentally and physically. I personally really enjoy these weeks because, similar to the Zebre week, there is massive opportunity for guys to step up. Look at Hugo Keenan winning his first cap off the bench, and Tom Daly the same from the start and getting a try. Andrew Porter made his first start. So it's a massive week for everyone.
Finally, best of luck to all the lads again this weekend against the All Blacks - here's to another cracking game.