Sunday 25 February 2018

Relishing break ahead of 16-game marathon

Nineteen-year-old academy prop Conan O’Donnell has been drafted in due to injuries and the absense of Nathan White, who is on World Cup duty
Nineteen-year-old academy prop Conan O’Donnell has been drafted in due to injuries and the absense of Nathan White, who is on World Cup duty

Pat Lam

As the World Cup reaches the final round of pool stages, we're faced with another week of no Pro12 action. With this being our last break until the beginning of February, it's going to be fairly full on, so I decided to take the opportunity to head away with my family for a little while.

Heading over to our old home in Newcastle, we're not going too far or avoiding much rugby, but it will be great to spend some time with Steph and the family and catch up with old friends.

My daughter Nelana was born there when I was playing with the Falcons for three years so it's a special place for all of us.

It will be great to take in a couple of games at St James Park, where I used to train. We're really looking forward to watching the All Blacks v Tonga game tonight night and then going along to Samoa v Scotland.

It's a dead rubber for Samoa but I know they will be really disappointed with this World Cup and will want to finish in style.

Following our own win over Cardiff and before we went off on a few days' break, the squad came together on Monday to sign off the review of the Cardiff game before we come back in, fully focused on Zebre next Monday.

There's no doubt we were happy we got the five points over Cardiff but we certainly weren't satisfied with the performance.


There's definitely something about our games with Cardiff - we just can't shake them off. They always hang in there and come back. This time, at least, when they were going for the last minute hurrah, we were clear of the seven-point margin.

We're not happy with conceding so many soft tries, especially at home, but we created a lot and took enough off them to secure the win.

At half-time, and again on Monday, we highlighted errors in our defence - guys not being quick to get around the side. We highlighted being impatient on the ball when they were coming up hard on us.

In the second half, we started with 14 men and we needed to control the ball, but instead we kicked it away and made it much harder on ourselves.

But when you have good structures and systems, it's important to go back to them when things aren't going well and that's what we did. When we work together, it goes well for us. All our best attack and defence is guys working together.

We felt we gifted them 17 points in the opening half but I was pleased with the response and in the second half we scored a couple of good tries, one of them straight off the training ground.

We're happy where we are at but there is plenty of room for improvement. One of our targets is to protect our home ground and we have done that so far. We have 11 points in the bag and even still, we know we can perform better.

We are now heading into a 16-match marathon starting with Zebre. Last year the most we went was nine, maybe 10, games without a break and that was tough.

There's no doubt our resources will be tested but we've known this was coming and we've prepared accordingly with the structure of pre-season and the in-season schedules.

There's just no way the same XV can play week in week out so we'll be using our squad and it will give a big opportunity to young players.

That's the reason we've brought some of the academy players in who I believe can play at this level.

Injuries will naturally play a big role and we've seen that already so early in the season.

This week we had a 19-year-old, year one academy prop make his Pro12 debut. Conan O'Donnell has trained well with us but of course it is unusual to have to dip into the year one academy.

Nathan White is at the World Cup while Rodney Ah You and Ronan Loughney both have injuries and the more experienced players in the academy like Saba Meunargia and Jamie Dever are carrying knocks.

So that just highlights how important it is for us and our small squad to bridge the gap and prepare our young squad as best we can.

While I'll be in the UK, I'll definitely be keeping an eye on Ireland's big game versus France. This is the game that will kick start them for the knock out stages and I have no doubt they will be massively improved from last week.

Irish Independent

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