Back chasing a European dream after our hectic Christmas period
It's been a tough few weeks with the big inter-provincial derbies over the festive season. But we have taken a lot from our jousts with Ulster, Leinster and Munster and it's onwards and upwards with Worcester Warriors a tricky opponent in the Challenge Cup this weekend.
When the fixtures were announced at the start of the season, you saw the block where you go from two European games into the interpros and then back into your final European fixtures in the pool. Straight away you have your eye on seven very tough games.
We knew the schedule was going to be difficult, especially with only one of our games at home. But we got off to a great start by beating Ulster and putting in a good performance in the RDS.
Unfortunately, we let ourselves down in the second half against Munster last weekend. We put parts of a good performances together for about 40 minutes but we didn't have the ball for 25 minutes in the second half and you can't win a game when that happens.
To take six points from the three games is not the worst result at the end of the day, but we feel we could have got two wins from those three interpros so it's disappointing in that sense.
A team like Munster are so good at punishing mistakes. They got that try from the kick-through where Andrew Conway scored. That gave them momentum and after the yellow card we conceded a few scores and we had to chase the game.
We came our fairly well at the start of the second half, but one or two costly knock-ons put us on the back foot. We just weren't able to get back into the game.
Coming into this block there was going to be opportunities for players and it was great to see Cillian Gallagher, Paul Boyle and Conan O'Donnell all on the pitch last weekend.
You have got some tough games so you are going to use your whole squad. And when you are a young guy looking for opportunities, there is no better time than a game against an interpro rival.
They guys who got their chance at the weekend did very well. They put up their hand and showed they are able to play at this level. From my own experience when I was that age I just wanted to play games. Now when you see a young lad like that coming on you know they are not going to let you down. They are going to put it all out there on the pitch.
It's a breath for fresh air to have the young guys pushing us as well and it adds some competition. Hopefully they can use that and gain more and more experience, and it will lead to Connacht having better players down the line.
There is plenty of promising talent coming through the academy at the moment. It's just about taking opportunities and learning from their experiences.
They need to keep their heads down and work hard now. It's obvious you won't be starting every week when you are just out of the academy. But it's invaluable the experience you can take from an interpro game. They are played at a higher intensity than a normal Guinness PRO14 game as well, and the guys need to learn from it.
We will probably be missing a few lads during the Six Nations. But it's the same with other teams who will be minus a lot more of their front-liners, especially the other provinces. The Six Nations period is always really important for Connacht because we can target it and look to get a few more wins on the board. There will be a few depleted squads.
It's a crucial period now with the European games which we can use as building blocks once again, to build confidence, test out patterns and learn things about ourselves as a team. We are top of our pool in the Challenge Cup. It's crucial we put in two big performances back to back and come away with a home quarter-final.
Worcester are a big, physical side. A lot of the English sides are set-piece dominant and they will come with a big scrum. They are still well in this tournament and will have their eye on us. If they can get a big win over us they are still in a position to qualify.
Worcester play on a 4G pitch and they are well able to throw the ball around as well so we have to contend with that. It's hard to know what the weather conditions are going to be like but hopefully the pitch can suit our style too. We are looking forward to it and it should be a good game. We never look at who has the favourite's tag before the match. We are the group leaders going on an away game but it's very important to keep our focus. We're coming in off the back of a few very physical interpro games. There are a few sore bodies so Europe is a breath of fresh air.
Hopefully we can go over to Worcester and get a big win and that can set us up nicely for a big game against Oyonnax in the Sportsground, because we will have played three away games in a row by that stage.
We know if we get a home game against anyone in the quarter-finals, it's huge to have that advantage in the Sportsground with the crowd behind us. We are all looking forward to it.
There is the potential for a home semi-final as well if you get maximum points. That's why we are definitely looking to have a good crack at these two games and try our best to come away with them with maximum points.