Player Diary: Big game feeling tells us we need a special performance in Belfast
Published 08/05/2015 | 02:30
There is a buzz around the place this week that you usually only get for the really big games. European weeks are a bit like this, so we really know there is a big one tomorrow in Belfast.
There has been nothing between us and Ulster in the last month or so: one team would win and the next team would match it. Finally, tomorrow afternoon, one or the other will finally pull a bit ahead and make things clearer for us.
Once again we had no game last weekend, so a lot of us were dodging around for a couple of days, but at least the telly was bursting with sport to keep us entertained.
The Champions Cup final was a great game as expected. It was a shame not to see Clermont finish off the job when they got a smell of victory in the last few minutes, but there is no denying Toulon are the powerhouse of European rugby now. Right throughout the team they are pretty awesome.
Last year in the semi-final we saw what kind of a side they are for ourselves and this season again they showed how consistent they are, continuing to perform when the big prizes are being handed out.
You would have to feel a little bit sorry for Clermont now. I was impressed with them when we played them in this season's group stages, but their inability to finish off the job at the final stage again will haunt them I'm sure. They are a classy team, though, and whoever they face next season will be in for a severe test again.
We spent that week moving ahead with our own reviews of the Treviso game. People often talk about the performance or whatever but sometimes you just have to play what's in front of you to get the win. Against Treviso that was our target and we did it.
It was a good team performance, and to get the bonus point at the end through a penalty try was satisfying for all the forwards. We do a lot of work with Jerry Flannery, the front rows and all the forwards put in a lot of time on the mechanics of the scrum during the week, so to get a penalty try to get the bonus point was pleasing.
On the down side, Treviso did get 19 points against us which is very disappointing and after looking over it we know those scores were down to simple system errors that we made. We know what they were and it was just poor decisions by us, so we've spent time working on correcting them. When we work so hard on our defence you never want to let any side score 19 points against us.
On a personal point of view, I was delighted to get some real good game-time under my belt. I'm always trying to get as many minutes in games under my belt as I can, so with the business end of the season upon us now, I was happy to get another 70 plus minutes in the legs.
As a prop you normally get hauled off a bit earlier than that, so to get a lengthy run was great. I love playing, if I could play 80 minutes week in week out I would, but I suppose that's the way the game is going. When a team has a good bench bursting to get on it would be silly not to use it as an advantage these days.
Tomorrow we'll be tested severely though. Ulster are a top side, their set-piece, both scrum and lineout, is excellent. They have been very impressive in that area of the game and have dominated most games on the back of a solid set-piece performance.
If I start I'm likely to face Wiehahn Herbst, someone I've never scrummaged against before, but looks like a quality operator. He's doing a real solid job for them up there. He is a quality player all round, but scrummaging is your bread and butter as a front-row and he has done that really well so it'll be a big challenge for myself or whoever's playing, and the rest of the pack.
As well as being strong at the basics, their defence has been very good. They really get off the line hard and they make it tough for teams to break them down. They are really solid throughout and they've scored a lot of tries of late too. I don't think they have any real weaknesses so we're really going to be tested this weekend.
We've had a few big games against them over the years, but this weekend is probably the biggest game we've had in a while against Ulster. Everyone was impressed with how they played against Leinster up at Kingspan Stadium. They struggled to cope with the Ulster physicality and speed off the line. We'll have to be wary of that.
And we have to be really tuned in from now to the end of the season. These are the crucial games coming up and this one could be as difficult as anything to come. We all have to have our focus on this one, and I'm sure we will.
Sometimes you can be guilty of looking too far ahead but it'd be crazy to look past Ulster this weekend: you'll be shooting yourself in the foot especially with the run of form they have been in. You've got to give them all the respect they deserve. We'll do everything we can this week to just prepare correctly for the game.
We've all heard the stat about the number of wins away from home in Pro12 semi-finals, so we know how important it is to finish in first or second in the standings. Thomond Park has always given us a huge boost and we really want to give the supporters something to remember from this year - especially the way Europe ended for us.
A win in Belfast would be a massive step in the right direction and it would push us along the way to our end goal of winning the Guinness Pro12.