Duncan Casey: We hate being out of Europe but we made the most of our 'free week'
Published 10/04/2015 | 02:30
It's good to be back! A seven-week lay-off didn't feel like very long when I was focusing on getting bigger and stronger, but when preparations started for the game against Connacht two weeks ago, I realised just how long it was.
I wouldn't say I was rusty but a degree of apprehension about slotting back in seamlessly was certainly there.
Getting your head around what lines to run off set-plays, a barrage of new lineout calls and returning to contact all contribute to this.
You just need to be confident in your ability in this situation. You need to remind yourself of the hundreds of hours of repetition you have under your belt.
Thankfully I got off to a pretty good start against Connacht. It's always nice to score a try as a front-row. My tally isn't bad this season (three) but it doesn't happen too often. Scoring a few minutes into your return from injury is even sweeter.
I should really take this opportunity to thank Billy Holland for slipping me the ball one metre from the line. There aren't many people that would. I know I wouldn't!
As for the performance itself, we can be reasonably happy. I have no problem saying that the scoreline flattered us in the end. Connacht are always tough opposition and they were no different that night.
Despite scoring some great tries and playing some good rugby, we turned over a huge amount of ball and conceded an unacceptable number of penalties.
As we try to tighten our grip on a home semi-final, these kinds of errors will need to be eradicated as we finish our campaign with four tricky fixtures. Remember, we were in a fantastic position until April of last year when two home defeats cost us a place in the top two.
We had another week without preparation for a game last week. This gave us another opportunity to get a mini pre-season done, which means lots of weights and lots of conditioning. We got through some very useful work on the field on Tuesday and Thursday as we looked to use our lack of European rugby to our advantage.
Everyone would love to have been playing last weekend. In Limerick it doesn't really feel the same seeing a quarter-final line up without Munster among the names. We can't dwell on our failings, however.
We realise that these 'free' weeks give us a huge opportunity to nail off any imprecision.
This also means that we don't have any excuse for not performing at 100pc over the next six weeks. We have an opportunity to target every single game ruthlessly and leave the teams around us in no doubt that our sights are firmly on winning the Pro12.
We start our run-in over in Scotland tomorrow. Edinburgh have thrust themselves back into contention for a place in next season's Champions Cup of late.
Like us, they will be demanding huge performances of themselves as they look to finish sixth.
Having embarrassed us in Thomond Park in round one, we are fully aware of how destructive a side they can be.
They will have their tails up after a good win over London Irish in the Challenge Cup last weekend. We will need to be firing on all cylinders to beat a physical, well-drilled team.
Lions hooker Ross Ford has led the side from the front for many seasons now. He is the best scrummaging hooker I have played against and can cause mayhem if you find yourself exposed.
David Denton is a giant of a man who always causes damage with ball in hand. He is a dominant carrier and we cannot afford to give him forward momentum.
Unless you're of a similar size (which I never am), you're wasting your time trying to execute a high tackle on someone like Denton. To be neutralised, he needs to be chopped at the ankles. That is our defensive focus this and every other week. Chop, chop, chop.
The Edinburgh supporters would have been very sad to learn that Tim Visser is leaving them at the end of this season. The powerful try-scoring machine will be moving to Harlequins after six very successful years. This includes being the league's top try scorer on four occasions.
We have experienced how lethal Visser is on several occasions over the years. He is a freakishly gifted athlete whose threat we need to be very conscious of. I can see the battle between him and whoever starts for us on the wing being particularly entertaining.
I had quite a productive couple of weeks off the pitch. Last Wednesday the Limerick branch of the IPSC held a screening of a film called The Lab by Israeli director Yotam Feldman.
We were very fortunate to have Feldman present at the screening to participate in a discussion before and after. He worked as a journalist for several different broadcasters and publications in the Middle East and Africa before moving into film production.
The Lab was an incredibly insightful and eye-opening documentary. I felt very grateful that a man with Feldman's profile had taken the time to come to Ireland and educate audiences around the country in such a generous fashion.
Hopefully this weekend's weather will be as good as Easter weekend's. With Scotland's track record, however, I'm not too optimistic about conditions for the game. Hopefully I'll be proven wrong. Enjoy the match and have a great weekend!