RDS factor crucial in win over Connacht
I've never known a build-up like it and the energy in the ground that evening was unique - it was inspiring
Published 04/11/2016 | 02:30
The first bout of European games finished nearly two weeks ago now but the intensity of the matches didn't get any less. Castres and Montpellier brought plenty to the table but it didn't ease up as our focus turned to the Guinness Pro12.
The defending champions Connacht were in the RDS and they were coming to the RDS top of their pool in Europe having won their two games in the Champions Cup and they were back playing with the style that everyone saw last season.
One thing that stood out though from last Saturday evening was the RDS itself and the atmosphere. You felt it as soon as you got to the ground and walked from the car park. Actually it was even before then as the traffic heading to the RDS was as bad as I've ever seen it!
The place was buzzing a good two hours out from the game and that didn't let up. The support was unbelievable. It resulted in a packed house and I think it was the vital element that drove us on and made a big difference after a tough first 20 minutes.
We knew that was coming though and that showed in the build-up all week. The intensity of training was so high leading up to the game because we knew that we needed to be at our best. And we knew that they would have periods of possession, their own purple patch, and that we would need to see it through.
That was definitely needed in that opening quarter. Connacht threw everything at us and we needed to be strong and stick to our systems.
Looking back at the build-up, I suppose you are only as good as your last game and having lost comprehensively to them in the final last season you could tell this game was different. It was the first chance to make up for that hurtful day. Would a win reverse that result? Of course not but you could sense that nobody wanted to lose again.
Bigger than that, though, everyone was focused in on this season and where we are now going and nobody wanted to lose a proud record in the RDS and we wanted to keep our performance levels high.
I was injured for that Pro12 final but was watching on the sideline and even for me I have been looking forward to the first Connacht fixture. I suppose that's what Connacht will get all year. Everyone wants a crack at the defending champions.
It was a good performance and it was great to get the win but while it was a good win in the end, it felt like a tight game throughout and it certainly showed us areas that we need to look at as the season goes forward.
I played about 15 minutes from the bench and while I did very little it was brilliant to be involved in a game like that. I think as a back-row unit we went well but as a team performance, in a stadium that was packed, it was one to savour.
There were also individual moments like a first start and try of the season for my house-mate Adam Byrne and a first try in Leinster colours for my UCD team-mate Barry Daly. It was a great moment for Barry and one that he will remember forever.
This week I'm in for Irish camp in Carton House and then a unique but hugely exciting challenge of heading off to Chicago to play the All Blacks. It is tricky changing between plays and different calling systems, that is probably the hardest thing about going between Irish camp and playing with Leinster.
I have done it before with UCD, Leinster and the Ireland U-20s but it goes without saying that this is a step up. It just requires doing a bit of homework and trying to keep on top of all the detail. Not really something that I find easy but some day I'll get there!
Last time I did my player diary Tom Daly was yet to win a game of FIFA in the house and while that hasn't changed he's found his niche in basketball so all the abuse has backfired on us a bit. The one downside of being in camp with Ireland was missing out on the basketball shoot-around with the self-proclaimed 'King of the Court' Hayden Triggs. He's not bad in fairness but that title might be pushing it a bit...
It's an exciting weekend ahead. Best of luck to the lads this weekend in Italy and talk to you all in a few weeks!