Player's Diary: Keeping up standards in scrum will be vital for hectic period
We're determined to remain competitive on both fronts this season for as long as possible and winning in France against Perpignan tonight is a big part of the plan.
Connacht have won four in a row now and it's crucial that we keep the momentum going. It was a good win in Galway last weekend, the lads went out and did their job. Some new players were blooded and we got the result.
Matthew Burke is a good player. Getting minutes like that and getting as much exposure is the best thing you can do as a young loosehead.
I remember when I was coming through, finding 20 minutes off the bench here and there can be quite hard. The more he can get the better.
It's great to have more competition at loosehead as well. You drive each other on. Pete McCabe has been doing really well this year. Loosehead is a position where we have a lot of depth now.
In the past we might have had two looseheads and the third choice was someone who covered both sides. With the attrition of playing in the front-row, you never have everyone fit.
We have four looseheads now and guys on the tighthead side who can cover so there really is a lot of competition.
Burke is still a bit young but he has a lot of potential. I'm sure if he can keep getting little blocks of game-time here and there and maybe get a start at some stage, he could become a really good player.
That certainly wasn't Perpignan's first-choice 15 that came to Galway last weekend and they were weather conditions the second choice didn't want to play in. But they still fronted up and they got a good scrum. They scored a maul try against us. They have a really good forward pack.
It's going to be an even bigger challenge this evening. Playing in France it's always a bit hostile but to be fair it's somewhere we have done well in recent years.
We have had some big victories in France. The Toulouse one was obviously one, last year with Brive and I know we lost over there to Grenoble, but we have beaten the likes of La Rochelle over there too.
I remember I played in a game where we only narrowly lost to Biarritz. But I have played in some big victories over there. I have won more games there than I have lost but it is hostile. It is always a big battle but hopefully the lads can go there and get a good win.
The French tightheads are always going to be heavy, they will have a lot of weight behind them.
The technical focus isn't as much it's more about the sheer size and weight.
Obviously that's a difficult animal to deal with but you can do things a bit smarter. If you cramp them a little bit, get your stuff nailed on 100 per cent you can get opportunities against them.
If you can start the game well and paint some good pictures at scrum and maul-time early on, with French teams you can blow them away a bit.
If they can stay in the fight they will always be competitive.
You need to kill their challenge early. They tend to lose their heads and then you finish them off.
The interpros are next on the horizon. I would imagine I will be scrummaging against Tadhg Furlong in the Leinster game, Marty Moore in the Ulster game and John Ryan in the Munster game.
We haven't played Munster yet this year but we know the scrum is an area they pride themselves on.
We did fairly well against the Leinster scrum last time out. Saying all that, they will probably be out for revenge as a result of that. That's going to be tough, but we can take confidence from what went before.
Ulster are going to be out for blood against us too because we won the game in Belfast this season and we got a penalty at every scrum. We dominated them that day and Moore has to come back in there.
I know their forwards coach Dan McFarland well and he used to be a loosehead prop. He cares a lot about the scrum so it's going to be a focus area for them. There really is no easy games coming up over the Christmas period. And the scrum is an area where you can lose a game but you also win a game it and tonight's game in France is one where the lads can keep building on our process and our scrum principles.
We need to fine-tune our scrum going into those three big interpros, and then we have Sale on the back of that as well. Sale have a really good scrum too so that part of the game is going to be crucial to us for the next five or six weeks.
It's been an area where we have won the game so many times this year. If we didn't win the scrum battle at Ulster we would have struggled in that game. I think back to Zebre that day there was sideways wind and rain and we built a platform off our scrum. The opposition tighthead got sin-binned for repeated scrum penalties and we won the game off of the back of that.
We need to make sure now we can keep our standards high there. When you have had some big performances at scrum-time it's an area where teams will start to negate you.
So all the focus is on Perpignan now. I'm sure the lads will have enough to pull off another brilliant Challenge Cup win over there.