European preparation has been a breath of fresh air after Zebre
It's hard to dress up last weekend's performance against Zebre as anything other than thoroughly unacceptable, but after a couple of days to stew on our loss, concentrating on tomorrow's Challenge Cup tie with Brive was a real lift to everyone.
We had a similar situation earlier in the year when we had a few poor Guinness PRO14 results and Europe was like a breath of fresh air. We went over to Geneva to play Oyonnax and faced Worcester at home, and won twice on the bounce. We took some confidence from that and then went on to win another two times in the league. With a busy few weeks ahead we'll be looking for a similar reaction this time round.
We only got back to Galway at around 4pm on Sunday after Saturday's game. After a weekend of travelling and a tough match we had to do a good bit of recovery on Monday, and we had a lot of meetings and reviews to conduct. It wasn't the best place in the world to be walking into.
We knew ourselves in the middle of the game that things were not going the way we wanted. We weren't playing well; things just didn't click for us; we really had an off day. But to be in a winning position, 10-9 up with 12 minutes to go, we felt we were in a good position to close it out. We had nearly scored a try only for a knock-on under the posts, but we kicked a penalty to take the lead. Unfortunately, we just didn't deal with the restart and they hit us straight away with the try. We were chasing the game after that.
Analysis It was one of the more frustrating games and disappointed dressing rooms that I've been in in a while. We felt we had a good training week going over there and had our analysis done. But on the day as a team we didn't show up at all. We were late to everything; we had no shape in attack; set-piece didn't go well; and we couldn't get over the gain line. Zebre did play well and deserve credit - they have improved hugely. But that defeat is on us: we didn't perform.
We should know our attack shape by now, our execution should be a lot better but unfortunately that let us down. Whenever that happens we look pretty average, and that's what we were in Parma.
It's a long trip back to Galway and for that few hours you mull over everything, wondering what could you have done differently, but soul-searching and if, buts and maybes are no good. You have to take it on the chin, and in the review we laid it all out.
There might be a few harsh words straight after the game, but by the time Monday morning comes it is quite scientific. We'd already have watched clips on the way home to ensure we are ready to take part in our backs review. It's not just one way from the coaches, everyone has a voice and we all try and figure it out together. You have to try and take some positives from every game, and if you can solve some of the issues that were there that's a good thing.
After that we have the squad review where we all get together and go through what went wrong, who didn't get their role right in a certain move, whether something was acceptable or not. If it is something that happens on numerous occasions then that's not good enough, but a once-off occurrence is definitely forgiveable as long as it's identified.
Once Tuesday morning came we decided to park the Zebre loss and turned our full focus to Brive. And knowing what's coming round the corner with the Christmas inter-pros, it's a nice chance to settle things again. We are top of our group and the feeling is we can go to France and win tomorrow.
Much of Tuesday went on reviewing Brive and considering this is the back-to-back fixture in the competition, it is a great chance to double up on that work. With another long trip ahead of us this weekend, it's good to be able to do that too.
We are scheduled to fly out this morning from Dublin for tomorrow's game, which is the third week in a row that we'll be on the road. Away weeks are a nightmare for the S&C coaches as they try and keep you ticking over for the next game while completing your recovery.
Brive is a place we've been two years ago, and we ended up with a frustrating loss. We outscored them three-nil on tries, but we still lost the game, when Thomas Laranjeira kicked the lights out. It's not as if we're facing into the unknown, and despite there being a few changes, they will be really physical, with a big maul and huge ball-carriers. This will be all about getting the minds focused for a physical test and if we can match them on that front we'll be right in there.
Despite last weekend I think we are all looking forward to getting back on the pitch, and we know this will be a real test against an in-form team. It is always hard to know what French teams will bring to the Challenge Cup.
We saw Oyonnax made huge changes against us and we took a good win from there.
But Brive will be a lot stronger, I think. They are in a decent position in the pool and will see this as a real deciding game for them. If we were to go and win this weekend, I think it would make things a lot easier for the return. But on the other hand a win will be huge encouragement for them.
We know how good we can be at home, so if we can come away from Brive with a win we know it will be a big result in the ultimate standings.