Wednesday 13 December 2017

There's a couple of results to be avenged against the Cardiff boys

Denis Buckley in action against Newport last month and Connacht face Welsh opposition again this weekend
Denis Buckley in action against Newport last month and Connacht face Welsh opposition again this weekend Newsdesk Newsdesk

It's hard to know whether we've been coming or going these last few weeks, whether it's pre-season or mid-season, but thankfully tomorrow evening we're back on the field again fighting for points in the Guinness Pro12.

The arrival of Cardiff Blues is a welcome return to action and with our recent run of luck and results against them, it promises to be a lively encounter, with revenge on the mind.

Having two weekends without matches at this time of the year has been a strange thing to acclimatise to. I had a dose of the flu in the middle of our week off, so once I recovered from that, I was more than delighted to get back.

Because we had no game last weekend, our training week was a bit tougher than usual. We put in a good conditioning week with a few weights sessions, and the pitch sessions were ramped up a little bit compared to a game week, where you'd have to look after the body a bit more.

It was a tough few days but it was no harm to get that extra week of pre-season under the belt.

I was pretty happy to have that extra conditioning. For most lads a 'bonus' pre-season week is the last thing they want to see, but I was happy to shake off the sickness and get back to work.


On a typical match week we have two main gym sessions with a third lighter push-and-pull session on a Thursday. Last week we were able to ramp that up and get an extra day in there.

A Friday is usually a 20-minute walk through session of our plays for the game ahead, but we got a great day in last Friday. We ran through all of our plays, one by one, and firmed up on our game-plan for Cardiff this weekend.

Having that clarity is massive for us; it's great to have a small bit of extra time to prepare for one game.

With this game taking place tomorrow evening rather than on our usual Friday, our week's training has been slightly altered.

Monday was a day of mainly team meetings and some light work, but a few of the lads were picked out for extra fitness. Thankfully I avoided that tap on the shoulder.

Tuesday was our big day, and in the afternoon we had the big contact session of the week, which had a real focus on our defensive set-up and structure.

Last year when we played Cardiff at the Sportsground at the start of the season, we were 14 points up with about five minutes left. They went 17 phases for one try and the next one they went 32 phases to tie the game. That really felt like a loss - and we only had ourselves to blame.

When it came to the visit to the Arms Park in March, there was ten minutes-plus of injury-time and they got a last-ditch try to take the win by one point.

That time we felt a bit hard done by with a few decisions that went against us.

They are definitely a different team to last year, though. They are improving all the time and are playing some of the best attacking rugby in the Pro12 at the moment. Their defence is very good as well so we know this is a serious challenge.

But the vibe in the camp is one of great excitement, we're all looking forward to the test and putting our plan of attack into play against them to see how we can negate their systems and apply pressure.

While much of our focus was on Ireland's game against Romania last weekend, myself and a few of the other lads were in Cork to help out at the Mazda Rugby Roadshow down there.

Mazda are a big sponsor of Connacht and this year myself and Kieran Marmion are the Mazda brand ambassadors.

Jack Carty and Darragh Leader were down for the event as well, where young rugby players from various underage teams in the area took part in the day's activities. We ran through a few drills with them, had a good training session and they played a few games after that. It was a great day.

We stayed in Cork on the Saturday night for the roadshow the next day, so we caught the England-Wales game down there. To be honest, I haven't watched that much of the competition yet, but I've seen all the big games.

From here on in it gets serious, especially for Ireland. Their World Cup properly starts now and we have a lot of big matches before the group finishes. From here on in, every game is huge.

Watching the top teams, you always try to compare yourself and the Connacht structures to how they play. You want to see how they do things, their exit strategies, and you watch for different attack and defensive tactics.

I've been interested to see how the referees have managed too. At the start of pre-season the coaches get told on what the referees will be clamping down and how the laws of the game will be interpreted.

We've definitely seen those guides carried through to the World Cup so far, so we know we need to be strong on those this weekend.

And we know we'll need to be on top form to pick up our second home win of the season. It's a big test for us: they are strong in the set-piece and they'll challenge us with ball in hand too.

But the preparation we've put in for the last couple of weeks has us feeling ready and we can't wait.

Irish Independent

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