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HUGE ONUS ON US TO WIN THIS

After nearly three months away from Leinster, it was good to be back in training with the boys last week. I had nearly two weeks off, and I got away for a weekend to the beautiful Farnham House in Cavan.

After all the travelling of the past few weeks, I'd no desire to set foot on a jet for a while, and it proved to be ideal.

I'd never been up to the place before, but they really looked after my family and I very well.

After being apart from my wife and son for the guts of seven weeks, it was great to get some quality family time in, and the hotel even arranged a babysitter so my wife and I could have one quiet dinner together!

I went into Leinster for the first time last Thursday for what Jason Cowman, our head conditioner, had euphemistically termed a "switch on session".

After what seemed like 400 lunges and single leg squats, I decided it would have been more appropriately called a "switch into suffering session" as I staggered out of the gym.

I was still stiff the next day when I went in for my first full day's training in nearly two weeks, but the pitch session in the afternoon soon cleared the heaviness from the legs.

It was great catching up with what went on while we were away. The guys who were left behind have certainly kept things going very well, and there will be massive competition for spots this season.

Just because you were on Ireland duty it's no guarantee of having a place come match day, which is exactly how it should be.



COMPETITION

In my own position, I've some keen competition from Jamie Hagan and Nathan White, while Simon Shawe is fast coming back from injury, so there's no room for complacency.

With that in mind, I had a chat with Joe Schmidt about the upcoming weeks and where he saw me slotting in. For the first time, I'm limited in the number of games I'm allowed to play due to the IRFU player welfare rules, so that's a pretty novel experience for me!

I find that I tend to play better with more game-time, but that's not true for everyone. Someone like Cian Healy, for example, could come back after a month off and play a stormer. With this in mind, I asked to be available for selection for the following Friday, so it was great to get selected and get out onto the field against Edinburgh.

A lot of players are fans of Friday games for the simple reason you get a full weekend off -- these are rare for professional rugby players!

The following week went by pretty quickly, Friday game weeks are like that. You've one less day of preparation so our week would go as follows -- Monday: weights and pitch session; Tuesday: off; Wednesday: weights and pitch session; Thursday: captain's run and travel; and Friday: game.

On Saturday game weeks, you'd have an additional day of work, so Wednesday would become the down day.

It's nice to have the extra day of recovery; on the day directly after a game, you're not really in the mood to do much due to tiredness and muscle soreness, whereas the day after you start to feel a bit more human again.

I was happily selected to start, and it was good to get back into Leinster colours again. The game itself was a bit disappointing -- even though we won, we conceded some soft tries and tackles were missed that normally wouldn't be.

Still, at the corresponding fixture last year, we coughed up four tries in probably our worst performance of the season, so we'll take the win.

Attention now turns to Munster in the first big derby game of the season. While playing Connacht and Ulster is always tough, there's always an extra bit of spice to Munster-Leinster clashes, and I'm sure that this weekend will be no exception.

Munster have recruited well in the off-season, bringing in the likes of BJ Botha, Ian Keatley and Will Chambers, and we're going to have to play very well to beat them. They've a strong set piece -- the addition of Botha has added to their scrum, there's of course a world-class lineout expert in Paul O'Connell and, as ever, Ronan O'Gara directing things.



IMPORTANT

Like last year, the game will be in the Aviva Stadium and that fixture proved very important in starting our momentum last season, so there's a huge onus on us to perform in front of what will be another huge crowd.

After a run of successes against Munster in previous seasons, that came to a juddering halt last year, and they're now two from two against us, so it's up to us to start the pendulum swinging the other way.

It's strange to think that not four weeks ago we were the best of friends, and tonight we'll be knocking lumps out of each other. Such is sport!


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