Pat Lam: Ready to go again after well-earned week off
It's Friday after our Thursday night game so by today we'll know how we fared against the Dragons and will hopefully be travelling back to Galway with points in the bag and still in the top four after round 14.
It was certainly a short week for us in terms of preparation and travelling for a Thursday game is not something we were used to.
But the coaches did a lot of work on the Dragons before we went on the break. On the Monday after the Scarlets game we covered off the game-plan with the players and we ran through a few of the plays in what was a light run.
So the boys left on their holidays knowing what they had to do and came back in on Monday morning this week with a lot of clarity and ready to hit the ground running.
Before this round of games, the table was extremely tight at the top and we'll have to see how it pans out after the weekend. There's potential that it could break up come Monday morning or it could remain very cluttered. You realise how great the competition is and it's really heating up at this stage of the season.
Our main goal is still Champions Cup qualification, so a top six finish. Most teams are now fully focused on the Pro12 and so are we until our Challenge Cup quarter-final comes around in April - another route to Champions Cup for us.
It's exciting to be still alive in both competitions and to be on track at this stage to achieve our goals.
It was fantastic to get the week's break after 16 weeks of consecutive games. Because we work through Christmas and New Year holidays I took the opportunity to head away to Spain for some quality family time.
To get some sun, especially after the weather we've been having, and spend some time away from the game for a few days was extremely beneficial. It can be an intense environment in professional sport so we welcomed the break to recharge the batteries. A lot of the boys got away for some sun as well or some stayed at home to spend quality time with their loved ones.
Unfortunately, we had some bad news last weekend when Jack Carty had a bit of a freak accident at a water park in Dubai. He took a bang to his ribs and thought it was just bruising but with a lot of pain, he thankfully decided to get it checked out and the scans showed that he had ruptured his spleen.
It was advised, especially as a sportsman involved in physical contact, that he have the spleen removed immediately. So he had surgery on Monday and is still recovering in Dubai now with his parents out there with him.
At this stage, we don't know how long he will be out of action as the recovery time can differ. But our main concern is that Jack gets himself back to full health and we look forward to seeing him back in Ireland very soon.
In terms of the out-half position while Jack is unavailable, we have AJ MacGinty, who lined out yesterday, and also options with Craig Ronaldson, Shane O'Leary and Conor McKeon from the academy. It's up to these guys now to really compete for the jersey and grab any opportunity they get.
We were delighted to have our Ireland squad members Kieran, Finlay and Ultan back for yesterday's game and you can see the increased confidence that they bring, even after a short time at that international level.
It is a great boost for all of Connacht Rugby to have five players involved in the Six Nations squad. It was a great performance from Ireland in the opening game. While only Robbie and Nathan featured on the pitch you cannot underestimate the role the rest of the squad including Kieran, Finlay and Ultan played in ensuring the preparation for the starting XV was spot on. All five players can take a lot of credit for the performance last week.
I was disappointed to see a lot of criticism towards Nathan around the scrum.
One of the key mantras we have with our forwards is when we scrum well it's the whole pack's reward and when we don't its all of our responsibility, and this was certainly the case when Jimmy Duffy and myself looked through those scrums. Everyone has a role to play for a dominant scrum.
Tomorrow's game against France is a very important game and I'm looking forward to seeing what I believe will be a win for Ireland.