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Destiny still in our hands

WE were in a pretty good mood on Monday morning. We'd picked up a bonus point win over in Northampton the previous Saturday, something that doesn't happen over there very often.

We'd been aided by a fantastic start with two tries in the first 10 minutes from Luke Fitzgerald, with Luke eventually going on to claim a hat-trick. Still though, none of us would have expected that scoreline prior to the game, and Northampton had another crack at us this weekend at the Aviva.

Double headers are a fantastic feature of the Heineken Cup, and often lead to some memorable series of matches. Quite frequently the home team wins both games, but this is often turned on its head, something we were all too aware that Northampton had done the previous year in the corresponding fixtures against Ulster.

Training that day was light enough; during Heineken Cup weeks the volume tends to go down and the intensity ramps up. It's designed to make sure you're in peak condition for the weekend. Not much had changed – we had some new plays to take advantage of things we'd noticed the previous weekend, and we changed some line-out calls, but that was about it.

Tuesday was the main training day of the week. In the morning the forwards had an upper body weights session, followed by a units session on the pitch where we did live scrums, line-outs, and mauling.

We knew that Northampton would be fired up for coming weekend, and they had one of the best mauls in the Premiership which they hadn't really used on Saturday. We prepared accordingly, and worked hard at stopping the drive at source.

Later that afternoon we had the main session of the day, where we worked on our attack shape. I'd booked a massage slot for afterwards, as it was a tough enough day training-wise, and by the end of the day I was glad I did.

ADEPT

Live mauls and scrums are probably the toughest part of training from a forward's perspective, and we'd certainly gone at each other hammer and tongs.

After a quiet day off on Wednesday, we had a defensive session on Thursday morning. Line speed would be a big focus of ours, trying to get off the line hard and cut down the opponent's space and options.

After the main part of the session the forwards stayed on and worked on restarts. We knew Courtney Lawes and Samu Manoa were pretty adept at claiming back kick-offs so we adjusted our set-ups accordingly to deal with this threat.

Later on that afternoon I found myself at the top table with Matt O'Connor for press interviews where we (well, mostly Matt) fielded questions from the various journalists assembled. Afterwards I had a quick radio interview, and then headed home to rest up.

Saturday was a really disappointing day at the office. Northampton were a much improved team to the one we played the previous weekend, while we seemed to be off.

We never really imposed ourselves on the game, but we still could have won it at the end but for an unfortunate interception. The game was intensely physical, and it seemed we had to defend an endless series of driving mauls, which thankfully were ultimately unsuccessful.

It was really galling to leave the field without even a bonus point, but that's how it played out. If we'd won we would have been firmly in control of the pool and probably looking at a home quarter-final.

As it is, we're still top but without much breathing room. We have to go away to Castres, which is not a happy hunting ground for many teams, and then host Ospreys.

It's still in our own hands, but we're back into the PRO12 for now, and any thoughts of holiday cheer will have to wait, as we've three big games against Edinburgh, Ulster and Connacht.


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