Mike Ross Player Diary: We need consistent quality to deal with daunting fixture list
Lady luck deserted Ireland early in Cardiff but let's hope it will be different for Leinster against Wasps
It's been a while since I last wrote on these pages and suffice to say a lot has happened in the meantime! I was part of an Irish squad that went to a World Cup with a lot of confidence, and deservedly so, as I felt we were very well prepared for the tournament. We topped the pool after a series of bruising matches, but ultimately fell short against Argentina.
It was a bitterly disappointing experience, and one that will live with those involved for a long time. For some of us, it was our last World Cup, and it's ultimately now up to the lads who will be there in Japan in 2019 to learn from the experience and take it forward.
One thing they'll have learned is that World Cups are extremely difficult things to do well in. You can do your preparation, have the best game-plan, but ultimately you need a good dose of luck too. A few teams were bedevilled by injuries, and we seemed to save most of ours for the match against France!
Ultimately, though, the best teams won through and I felt that New Zealand were deserving champions. They've been the yardstick by which teams are measured for a while now and that accolade is well-earned. It'll be a new-look team for them the next time they come together, but they're very well placed to weather the losses of the likes of McCaw, Carter, Mealamu and Woodcock, all world-class players in their day.
When we got back a good number of us were given a week off. This was very welcome, as we'd been in camp since the beginning of June. For those of us with families, we'd been peripheral figures at best, our other halves living the life of a single parent in our absence.
Accordingly, I was pretty eager to make the most of the time off and get away for a decent break so we went down to Dromoland Castle in Clare for three nights. It was nice to switch off from rugby for a while and reconnect with the family, and we were well looked after.
The following week it was back into Leinster, and it was almost like the first day of school. When you go back to your province after an extended period of time in another environment, you have to switch over to another "language". The calls and lineouts and moves have different names, especially so this year with a new coach in charge. It doesn't take long, but you need to be up to speed very quickly.
The new regime is very efficient - Leo was extremely well organised as a player, and has certainly carried on with that in his new career. Sessions are sharp and intense, and there's a big buzz around the place heading into the next crucial block of games.
We got off to a good start against the Scarlets last Friday, and I was personally delighted to double my professional try tally! Now we've got to park the Guinness Pro12 for a bit, as we've European business to attend to but we've left ourselves in a good position of fourth in the table.
First up, Wasps, who are currently sitting eighth in the Aviva Premiership after four games. Wasps were in our pool last year too, and have recruited well since then, adding the likes of George Smith, Charles Piutau, and formerly of this parish, Jimmy Gopperth and Brendan Macken. We've been looking at them this week and they have a huge amount of pace out wide, especially with Christian Wade roaming the wings, and quite a bit of grunt up front too. James Haskell and Smith will offer a big challenge at the breakdown, and they've some seasoned campaigners in the front-row with Matt Mullan and Carlos Festuccia backed up by Bradley Davies and Joe Launchbury.
Crucially, we're at home, and it's a game we have to win if we've any pretences of getting out of our group.
We've quite the fixture list before the New Year: Wasps, Bath, Ulster, Glasgow, Toulon, Toulon and Munster. With the calibre of the opposition there's going to be huge pressure on the squad to deliver consistent quality performances. Every single game is going to be a tough one. Thankfully, we've some great strength in depth, and we're going to need every bit of it.