Players eager to lay down marker for vital Perpignan double-header
WITH part one of our Welsh double-header completed, we are ready to finish the job and back up our bonus-point win against Cardiff when we face the Dragons tonight. It was a great result for us last week. We put in a good team performance, got three tries before half-time and then came out and wrapped up the bonus point pretty quickly after the restart.
We probably could have played better towards the end of the second half, but I think after the bonus point was in the bag, our concentration levels let us down a little bit. That's definitely something we will have to work on in the weeks ahead, because it will be vital that we take every chance and grab every try that could possibly come our way.
When you have a team in a situation like that you should never ease off. We all know that, so it was a little disappointing to let them get back into it a small bit.
From a personal point of view, it was great to have the run out at the Arms Park. I was introduced off the bench with about 20 minutes left, which was great to blow away some of the cobwebs from the couple of weeks away. No matter how much training and pitch sessions you get in, there is nothing like stretching the legs with something at stake.
I must admit, there was a little bit of apprehension among the lads with the thought of playing on their artificial surface, but I loved it. I thought it was brilliant. I had visions of playing on a plastic pitch like they used to in England back in the day, but there was brilliant give to the surface.
From a front-row's point of view, it was a dream. The scrum hardly collapsed at all, it was very easy to hold your feet as there was great grip for your studs on the surface and it meant a lively game for everyone. It was probably the best pitch we've played on all year.
But the whole place is steeped in rugby traditions. The dressing-rooms are deep inside the new Millennium Stadium stands and it is a little crowded in there, but we were over there to do a job. We wanted the win and we did it. The minor details don't affect our overall objectives.
I must say, I was happy with how I did when I was introduced, albeit for a short run. I managed to get a good line-break under my belt and I thought the scrums went well for us too. The referee gave Cardiff a call or two in the scrums, but over the game, it balanced itself out, I suppose. I was quite happy overall, though.
It was interesting to get another look at Robin Copeland during the game, and it's good to see a fellow AIL graduate doing so well for himself. He played well again on Saturday and it just goes to show how well our league system works if we can produce players like him. For whatever reason, he passed through the Leinster academy system, but he was a super player when he was at St Mary's.
By the time we got home to Limerick, it was very late on Saturday night/Sunday morning, so unfortunately I wasn't able to make it up to the Aviva for the Ireland-New Zealand game. And with the six-day turnaround to cope with, I was better off minding myself on the couch.
But it was an incredible match, you have to feel sorry for the lads, they were so unlucky. Everyone's heart went out to them, the last five minutes must have been gut-wrenching for them. They had done everything possible before that to get into a winning position and then to be robbed like that must have been tough to take.
I thought Conor Murray had a phenomenal game for Ireland, he was nearly like another flanker there, the amount of times he got down to rob New Zealand ball was incredible.
Everyone talks about the belief that New Zealand have and it must be incredible to stage a comeback like that. It is probably something we have to look at and take stock of going forward.
We in Munster know we are facing into a right battle here tonight, though. It's a real intimidating place to play, the crowd love a good fiery encounter and on the back of their win in Glasgow, we know they are on form.
I imagine they will be missing a few lads with the extra Wales autumn international, but that didn't weaken them too much last weekend. I had a brief look at them when we played them in Musgrave Park earlier in the year, but we are expecting a much stronger challenge from them this time.
And with the Heineken Cup peeking its head around the corner again, everyone will be keen to lay down a marker, put in a top performance to make sure they can't be left out for the Perpignan games.
We had an onfield session in UL on Monday and I followed it up with a double weights session on Tuesday, and we had another run out in Cork on Wednesday, before yesterday's flight.
The whole travelling aspect is full of pros and cons though. Last week we flew into Birmingham because there were no flights available into Bristol, which left us with a nice two-and-a-half hour spin down the road to Cardiff.
Thankfully, yesterday, we were able to fly into Bristol, but we still had another long drive ahead of us to get out to Newport.
But the positive thing is it gives me plenty of time to work on my card skills -- not that they need too much polishing!
There has always been a tradition of getting the deck of cards out when we are on the road, but we have a new version of 'Lives' to keep us going these days. Don't ask me how to explain the rules, there have been so many amendments made over the last few months, with severe punishments devised for the poor unfortunate losers and rule breakers. You have to have your wits about you playing. As usual Damien Varley likes to chair the group, he seems to have his hand in every pie.
If we come home with another win on the pitch and I take a couple of moral triumphs in the cards, it'll be a good weekend.