Player diary - Mike Ross: From unblocking drains to plugging holes in defence
It hurt us to concede three tries to Edinburgh and we are determined to tighten up for trip to Belfast
Published 22/04/2016 | 02:30
After the luxury of a full week off, it was back to normal on Monday. Some of the squad had gone off to exotic climes to get some much-needed sun, but sadly that wasn't an option for me as my eldest is in school. Easter holidays were a bit earlier this year, which meant that our weeks off didn't overlap unfortunately.
It was great to get an opportunity to recharge, though; since I returned from my hamstring injury I'd either played or been on the bench for eight consecutive weeks and it was nice to have some down time. Instead of heading away, I caught up on some much-needed jobs around the house. Nothing makes you yearn to get back into training more than clearing blocked drains!
When we got back to training on Monday the weather was thoroughly miserable, and we trained in the driving rain that afternoon.
Spring seems to have held off stubbornly this year, and hopes of ditching the waterproofs would have to wait. We had Tuesday off as it was a Friday game, and thankfully Wednesday was a lot better, with some sunshine making a welcome appearance.
Training went well during the week; we knew a win was vital if we wanted to give ourselves the best possible chance of a home semi-final. This we did, and with a try bonus point to boot, but we made it a lot harder on ourselves than it could have been.
Kurt McQuilkin, our defence coach, had some choice words to say after the game about our defence, and we had no reply to him. Our defence has been one of our bedrocks all year, and conceding three tries is simply not what is required to win titles.
Defence was also the theme at an Irish mini-camp on Sunday, and I got a lift down with Johnny Sexton. It was nice to have such a highly paid chauffeur, even if his music taste was questionable at times! We were meeting at Johnstown House for a 24-hour camp, where we got an early look at South Africa and also an introduction to our new defence coach, Andy Farrell.
'Faz' came highly recommended by the lads who'd worked with him on the 2013 Lions tour, and I could see why. He's very blunt about what he wants, and that's exactly what you need in a defence coach. Any doubt in your mind can lead you to slowing up or making the wrong decision, which is something you can't afford on the international stage.
South Africa are a bit of an unknown quantity. They've a new coach in Allister Coetzee. A lot of the mainstays of the team like the Du Plessis brothers, Bryan Habana and Victor Matfield have either retired or moved on. But they've a huge amount of players to pick from, with a lot of quality.
Joe actually showed us footage from the 2004 match that we lost 26-17, which is to date our closest result over there. It's a hugely tough place to go, and with three matches in 14 days (one at altitude) it'll really push the squad to the limit.
For now, though, the focus remains on the Guinness Pro12. We have no fixture this week but next week sees us travel up the M1 to face Ulster in their backyard. Ulster are still in the top four but there's not much space between them and Scarlets so they'll be very keen to put as much distance between them and the Welsh.
A win for us would pretty much guarantee us a home semi-final, with only Glasgow able to catch us.
Ulster have suffered a lot of disappointments in the Pro12, narrowly missing out on a home final last year, and they have some quality players who will be driving them on.
Rory Best is one of the toughest competitors that I've played with or against, and there's a lot of power behind him with Iain Henderson returning from injury, and centre Stuart McCloskey is bigger than most back-rows.
Chris Henry is always a constant annoyance at the breakdown, and in Paddy Jackson they've a very talented playmaker.
We were well beaten the last time we went up there, so we're going to need a big performance to take us one step closer to that home semi-final berth to put us in the best possible shape for a shot at the title.