Player Diary: Plenty at stake in massive two weeks for us all
Seniors and 'A' team have got their eye on significant prizes this weekend and it's vital that we take them
Spirits were high on Monday after a clinical performance against Zebre last week. I felt we had an accurate game and the work rate was excellent right up to the last minute.
We scored some great tries and similarly our defence was strong to not let Zebre over our line. This gives us great confidence going into these two crucial European weeks. The reality is, win tonight and we're in the quarter-finals. That is a hugely positive position to be in and one that excites us all as we prepare for a big weekend for the full squad.
We are coming into a very exciting part of the season. It is so important we train with an intensity similar to what we will face in these knockout matches because even though they are regular-season games, the way the results have fallen, the games have added significance.
If Montpellier win they are right back in the pool and will bring it to the final-round game. In the other game, Castres need to do their bit and beat Northampton to make sure that they can have a say in the final round as well at home to us. As I said, a huge weekend for three of the teams in Pool 4.
It's been a really good week on the training pitch. The coaches are working on unstructured attack with us and it is starting to take shape nicely into matches. This work is being done with the entire squad. Everyone has a role to play in training to put the team in the best possible position approaching these games.
As we know, Montpellier are a massive side. They look to physically dominate teams at maul and scrum time in the pack. Then spread the ball wide to the likes of Nemani Nadolo and Timoci Nagusa. That is how they beat us over there and we can expect the same game-plan tonight.
We need to play the game at our own intensity and pace. Have an energy about our defence and be smart with our attack.
It is great to have Johnny (Sexton) back as he brings huge experience and leadership to the side. Ross Byrne has been brilliant in his absence and I have no doubt both will be raring to go tonight.
Having not lost in the RDS in 2016, we plan on continuing this in the new year. With the help of the fans we can create a fortress mentality about playing in the RDS. This will stand to us hugely as we play for a home quarter-final in the Champions Cup and a home semi in the Guinness Pro12.
For me personally, I can take huge learnings from my last game in Thomond Park on Stephen's Day. It is an incredible place to play and a great Christmas fixture and a full Thomond is an atmosphere like few other away grounds. To their credit, they even threw in a few extra seats so it was the biggest crowd I think ever in Thomond. Those are the occasions that you want to be involved with.
Hats off to Munster though who were brilliant that day and it certainly was one of the more physical games I've played in. They deserved their win but it was a frustrating one to look back on because we felt we had the team to win down there and training had gone well but sometimes it doesn't translate into a full 80 minutes because at times I thought we went about our business in the right manner.
This weekend I suppose it's important for me to take the learnings from that Munster game and the training I have done since and if I get a chance off the bench against Montpellier I have to be ready to take it.
Our 'A' team is also playing against Nottingham this weekend and I know the lads are looking forward to getting some game time. With such a competitive squad, not consistently playing can be frustrating at times but these 'A' games or games with your club in the All-Ireland League are vital to keep players match-ready. It is crucial you put everything in when given the chance, to put yourself in the best position to be selected for the senior team.
With a break in the Pro12, all focus is on Europe and the B&I Cup for the next two weeks. The ultimate goal is to see Leinster back at the top of European rugby and that starts with Montpellier this evening.