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I'm coming back to Connacht a better player thanks to Joe

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Matt Toomua, Australia, in action against Robbie Henshaw, Ireland. Guinness Series, Ireland v Australia. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Matt Toomua, Australia, in action against Robbie Henshaw, Ireland. Guinness Series, Ireland v Australia. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

Matt Toomua, Australia, in action against Robbie Henshaw, Ireland. Guinness Series, Ireland v Australia. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

With a few days R&R under the belt, I feel ready to go again for Connacht, it's good to be back with the lads again, but what an experience that last four weeks has been for me personally.

Starting and winning for Ireland against South Africa and Australia was incredible for me, and overall the experience was great. I think I am a better player coming back to my province now as a result.

The pace of the game against Australia especially was off the charts at times, it was definitely the fastest game I've played in this year. But the work we did in the build-up to the games meant we were prepared, we were ready to go there-when it was needed.

Playing alongside Jared Payne and Gordon D'Arcy was brilliant for me too. D'Arcy especially, as one of the most experienced centres in world rugby, really helps you around the field. As a result I feel I have come on a huge amount in terms of experience in the bank.

We've heard it a thousand times that Joe Schmidt's attention to detail is what separates him from other coaches, but right across the board the coaching is superb.

Knowledge

The hands-on work that Joe does with you means that any player that goes in there comes back a better player and learns something every time. You are all the time picking up tips and knowledge here and there, and more often than not those ideas seem to work out.

So to put in all the work and come out of it with three wins is an amazing feeling. But I still know that there is so much more work to be done and I can't wait to do it.

It's funny, this time there was more expected of me because I started a couple of games, but I can honestly say that I found it harder when I first came into the squad. Knowing the faces but not the people can be a tough environment to come into, but this year I feel more a part of the squad.

It can be a little overwhelming when you come in and are expected to know all the plays and calls. You are given a few days to nail your stuff, but after that if you make a mistake you are called out pretty quickly. This time I knew exactly what was expected of me going in there.

Ireland duty is parked now until the Six Nations, but we will meet up as a squad before Christmas to do a review of the Australia game. So from now until then, all focus is back on Connacht. It's great to be going from one squad high on confidence to another.

It can be a bit strange, though. You spend the first two months of the season with the Connacht lads only to have to miss out on a few games. I'm not complaining, but sitting in the Shelbourne Hotel with Rodney Ah You watching Connacht was a strange feeling. We both felt like we wanted to be in the Sportsground too.

To say that the two of us were shouting at the TV is a bit of an understatement. We were glued to the box and there was no pulling us out of our room. It was a great performance from the lads to take the win, especially on the back of the three-week break. Getting that much-needed bonus point made it all the sweeter too.

All over the field the boys were pretty ruthless. The forwards really stepped up and put in a massive shift so it was good to see Mick Kearney get a try as well as the penalty try for the scrum.

It is great to see Mils and Bundee looking sharp. I'm looking forward to playing alongside them whenever I'm picked again.

I did a bit of swapping from No 12 to No 13 with Ireland and I expect to do a bit of that with Connacht in the weeks and months to come. With Bundee and Dave McSharry playing so well the last day it might be hard to break in there now, but we also have Craig Ronaldson who has been in great form too. For sure, the options are there, I might even get a look at full-back again - if Mils or Darragh Leader feel like a rest!

Kieran Marmion will be keen to get back involved again this weekend too after a week off from Connacht last weekend. He got a well-deserved break - he has been pretty busy so far this season, and on the back of 50-something games in a row he probably welcomed the rest.

But Ian Porter and John Cooney played their part too and it just goes to show that everyone has to be on their toes, and guys are taking chances when they get them.

After tomorrow's game we have two European games, before three games in a row against Ulster, Leinster and Munster which will bring us into the new year. If we can retain our good form and maybe improve it a small bit, it would be ideal heading into that run of matches in buoyant mood.

But first on that list is Scarlets and they have shown some great form in the last month or so. They earned a massive result last weekend against Glasgow, who are in brilliant form, so we know well we have to be at our best to beat them.

There is also the fact that they are our nearest rivals in the standings so if we are to drive on to our ambition of making the top six, these are the game we have to edge.

We have shown that we can win the big occasions and tight games since the start of the season and they don't come any more important than this one.

Irish Independent