WE had a bit of a departure from our usual schedule last week. Instead of having Sunday completely off as we usually would after a Saturday game, we assembled in the afternoon for a quick preview of what we'd be doing in training that week.
We had a six-day turnaround before a European final and the coaching staff were determined to use every bit of time available to them. It wasn't too strenuous for the team that had started the game – we had a half hour switch-on session to get the body moving again. For the guys who hadn't started, it was a bit tougher – they'd a filthy looking conditioning hit involving about 10 different exercises with two minutes of continuous effort per exercise. Afterwards, we all sat in on the squad meeting where Joe (Schmidt) outlined what plays we'd be using that Friday and then subsequently walked through those plays on the indoor running track.
In an effort to maximise the recovery time after what had been a tough game against Glasgow, Monday was a down day with plenty of massage slots available. They were fully occupied too. Many of us, myself included, were nursing knocks and bruises. I'd acquired a nice dead leg and, unfortunately, the best treatment for this is to rub the knot of abused muscle until it dissipates. Not the most pleasant of experiences, but it certainly helps. Unfortunately it didn't look like Brian O'Driscoll was going to make it as he'd suffered a bad back spasm, but on the plus side, Sean O'Brien was back fit.
Tuesday was our major training day of the week, the day with the heaviest workload. We'd a cut-down upper-body session in the morning, followed by a pitch session in the afternoon. We worked on both attack and defence, running against the team chosen to play in the B&I Cup final, which was also on Friday evening. The B&I team ran Stade's plays against us, which really helps familiarise you with what you'll be facing that weekend.
Preparing for games is a real squad effort and the harder you have to work in training against your team-mates, the better the preparation. It can be very tough if you're not picked for the weekend and it takes some real selflessness to go out and help the player who has your spot! I think it's a testament to the culture within the squad that every week training is as difficult as it is.
Wednesday was also a down day and I was into UCD again, first for some press duty and then for some more physiotherapy. Afterwards, I went down to the Aviva, where I attended the Herald School Sports Awards. I'd been invited the previous year, but hadn't been able to make it due to training, so I was glad to be able to be there this time.
There was a lot of future talent there and listening to the awards citations, Ireland looks to be well represented in a multitude of sports in the future.
The overall winner of the Herald Sports Star of the Year was cross-country runner Siofra Cléirigh-Buttner, who quite incredibly at just 17, has already had a four-year winning streak at the Herald Awards. Impressive stuff!
Thursday was captain's run day and we whipped through it fairly quickly. Everyone knew their role and training was very precise.
I had a bit of a sleep-in on Friday as it was a late 8pm kick-off, so there was plenty of time.
It's important to be fully hydrated by the time the match comes around, so I got through a few litres of water and some sachets of Dioralyte during the course of the day.
The game kicked off and we were soon ahead thanks to a well-rehearsed training ground move that ended in Ian Madigan going under the sticks. I took a heavy knock to the shoulder early on, but thankfully it was just a stinger and not a broken collarbone, which is what it felt like at first! Stade had most of the possession, but we made it count when we had the ball, exploiting more weaknesses previously identified by Joe to leave us three tries to the good at half-time.
Eventually, we ran out 34-13 winners and it was great to see Isa (Nacewa) and Jonny (Sexton) lift the Cup. They've been at the heart of some great days over the years and we'll miss them both next year.
It was great to hear of our 'A' team's dramatic victory over in Newcastle and it capped off a memorable night for Leinster Rugby.
Afterwards, we went out for a few celebratory ones, but we didn't go very hard at all. We've another final this weekend against Ulster, a team that's already beaten us twice this season.
Having been on the receiving end of losing three PRO12 finals, I've no desire to make it four and I'm not alone in that wish. Ulster have improved steadily over the past few seasons and it's going to be a very difficult task to beat them tomorrow.
We know them very well at this stage; they've got some outstanding players like Rory Best, John Afoa, Tommy Bowe and Ruan Pienaar and are a well-drilled side.
Unusually, the game won't be at Ravenhill due to development works, but will instead be at the RDS, which we won't complain about.
We'll need every bit of support available this weekend and hopefully they'll be there to see us finally take the league title that's eluded us in the last three seasons.