Player's Diary: Super trip to South Africa has set us up well to push on from here
We're back from a couple of massive weeks in South Africa and it was certainly no holiday. We went down there to get two victories and we took care of business. It was a great trip at the right time of the year and taking nine points is a huge plus.
We left Bloemfontein on Sunday morning and had to get a bus to Johannesburg which took up five-and-a-half hours. We stopped to have lunch halfway through that, but it was a tough one, especially in the sweltering summer heat down there.
When we arrived in Johannesburg we flew to Doha in Qatar and then on from there back to Dublin. It was a long journey but we got home eventually and it was nice to be back on home soil again.
We did this week a bit different then. There were a lot of lads tired on Monday when we got back but we had a late start on Tuesday, so we had time to rest up before we got back into the swing of things at the Sportsground.
We're delighted with how things have gone since the defeat away to Ospreys. It was crucial to get that bonus-point win at home to Dragons and the two games in South Africa came at the perfect time.
We had lots of time to prepare for it and get your head around leaving for two weeks. The coaches were going to bring a squad 25 to South Africa so nearly half of the lads were being left behind. There was a lot of competition for places for who was going to get to travel.
The 25 of us that went over knew we weren't going to go over on a holiday. Before the two weeks we were in a position in the league where if we only won one game it would probably have been really deflating for us. If we lost both games our season was effectively done in terms of the league. And then in best-case scenario, if we had won the two games we put ourselves in a really good position.
International Rugby Newsletter
We were under no illusions going over there. Southern Kings had been in decent form lately, scoring lots of tries and they had turned over Conference A leaders Glasgow Warriors there too.
Then obviously Cheetahs as well with the altitude factor there that was always going to be problematic. We had a tough loss there last season when they scored in the dying minutes.
That was a tough one but to come away from South Africa with two wins we are absolutely thrilled with that. We put ourselves in a really good position in the league to kick on after the European break.
When you are away together for two weeks you only grow closer as a squad. It was a great bonding experience for everyone involved. You spend a lot of time with each other. You have a lot of free time to use in the evening and it was great to catch up with the lads like that.
You end up having a lot more conversations about little work-ons here and there. You are working more on things that you wouldn't get to do back in Galway. There is a bit more reviewing going on as well.
You need to get that balance over there of enjoying your free time and actually training and playing rugby.
With Cape Town you could easily get distracted because there was a lot on offer, but we felt it was a good training camp base for us. We just travelled for the games at the weekends in Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein then.
That worked really well, we got to enjoy the amenities there and have an intensive couple of weeks on the training fields. We put in some good training sessions.
In the heat on hard, solid pitches it's completely different to what we have in Ireland at the moment. It was really tough, but we tried to give our best and it only brought us closer as a squad. It's just about bringing that confidence and excitement back to the group that was left behind here, and we are working hard in the background as well.
It's exciting for us now. We put ourselves in a good position in the league to kick on and fight for a play-off spot in the PRO14.
We have a lot of competition there with lads fighting for places and it was the perfect time for us to go over there, get the wins and the bit of confidence before these back-to-back European games and then into the interpros.
They are always so big around Christmas time and they can define a season as well.
Playing in Bloemfontein in the sun is good fun, especially for the backs.
But at the same time we felt we could have closed the game out a bit better when we were fatigued against Cheetahs.
We are back in Galway now where we know the next couple of weeks are probably going to be a bit tougher in terms of the weather and we have to adapt our game accordingly.
It's crucial that we get used to a different type of ball game where there is a lot more kicking involved.
We know what the wind and rain can be like sometimes in the Sportsground and we want to use that to our advantage.
Around the festive period it's always exciting for the supporters and there is a great atmosphere at the games.
That is something we are looking forward to as well.
Perpignan will be tough, but we are confident we can get the victory at home tomorrow before it gets even tougher in France next weekend.