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pros have no place to hide

THERE were a few bruises on display this week when we sat down at the team meeting to begin our preparations for our first game of this season's Heineken Cup.

The game against Munster had proved as usual to be ferociously physical, and there was a bit of a queue for medicals on the Sunday.

While any win against Munster is welcome, there was a deflated air in the dressing room afterwards, as we felt we hadn't really got going at any stage.

However, as always, there was another game on the horizon and a new season of the Heineken Cup to prepare for.

Montpellier had a great season last year, ending up losing finalists in the Top14, but hadn't really got going this year, probably due to the absence of some influential players on World Cup duty, the likes of Fulgence Ouedraogo, Francois Trinh-Duc and the mammoth Mamuka Gorgodze all being away.

We knew that with these players back in situ, Montpellier would be a vastly different proposition to the team currently languishing third from bottom in the Top14. Gorgodze in particular looked like he would prove a bit of a handful, having quite the highlight reel!

The guy is massive, 6'4" and 19 stone, and has quite a bit of gas to boot. Stopping him at source was crucial, as well as keeping Ouedraogo away from our ruck ball.

There's usually quite a bit of footage at Monday meetings and last Monday was no exception. The video analysis team of former Leinster out-half Emmet Farrell and Evan Kane trawl through hours of video to pull these montages together, and their hard work often goes unmentioned.

Immediately after games you'll see them starting the long task of clipping everyone's tackles, carries and ruck clean-outs, as well as a plethora of other yardsticks by which we are measured. It's a lot of work, and since the footage has to be there by Monday morning for us to review, it involves many weekend hours. For us, it's great to be able to access our actions from the weekend, but it has the corollary that if you make a mistake, there really is no place to hide.

People often ask me what it's like to play professional rugby and how it compares to the real world. It's an interesting question, and having experienced the amateur life and now the professional, I feel reasonably well equipped to answer.

For me, professional rugby is a unique workplace. Some of the slagging and practical jokes that go on would give any human resources department fits, but equally you are working with guys who are highly motivated, and all very good at what they do.

I remember being at an RPA meeting (the English players association) while I was in London and having one of the guest speakers inviting us to take a look around the room, and to recognise the fact that this would probably be as good as it gets work-wise. You'll find no one just turning up to take a pay cheque and not putting in an effort.

Any hint of this is quickly sniffed out and the offender dealt with, often by his peers. I remember when I was working in the real world, being anxious about the yearly review. Now I have that every Monday!

Training has gone well during the week and it's been good to have a full week to prepare and get a good bit of work done. The scrums weren't at the level we needed them to be at last weekend, so we worked hard on that. There were a couple of new combinations last week, and it generally takes a bit of time to start running smoothly.

Thankfully, I was on the starting team and I had Damian Browne behind me in the second row for the first time. Damian's been around a bit, starting out with Connacht, then going to Northampton, Brive and now Leinster.

We flew out on Friday and had the Captain's run at the Stade de la Mosson. We went back to the hotel and watched Connacht make their Heineken Cup debut against Harlequins. Knowing players from both teams, I was an interested spectator! I thought Connacht played very well, and were desperately unlucky not to get anything out of the game. It'll be an interesting return leg.

Instead of the evening kick-off that we have for most of our games our kick-off on Saturday was 2.30pm local time. I didn't get off to a great start, conceding a penalty at a ruck. We fought pretty well and were unlucky when we turned over the ball inside their 22 and instead of us going over their whitewash Ouedraogo went over ours.

We were trailing 16-6 with about 15 minutes to play but Seán 'Nugget' Cronin scored a great try and Jonny Sexton nervelessly converted a penalty with the last kick of the game for a draw.

Montpellier were a really tough team to play, their scrum was strong and they competed very well at the breakdown, successfully slowing or turning over our ruck ball on numerous occasions.

We were all pretty sore after the game; I'd been on the receiving end of some really good low tackles from the Montpellier tighthead, who seemed to dive at my knees with his head.

We were disappointed again with how we played. We're going to have to step up the intensity against Glasgow this weekend, who'll be on a high after a win over Bath that brings them to five wins on the trot. Something tells me our job review will be pretty interesting on Monday.


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