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It was great to see the likes of Rodney Ah You make such a strong impression in the Ireland shirt

It was great to see the likes of Rodney Ah You make such a strong impression in the Ireland shirt

SPORTSFILE

It was great to see the likes of Rodney Ah You make such a strong impression in the Ireland shirt

After an enjoyable couple of weeks away from the intensity of game time, it's back to the trenches tonight against Zebre in Galway.

While we all love representing Connacht and pulling on the green shirt, it was nice to relax at the weekends. Even being able to sit back and watch all the rugby that has been played over the last two weeks from the comfort of your armchair was a nice change.

Like everyone else, I was glued to the Ireland games, shouting on the Connacht boys who featured. Fair play to Rodney, Kieran and Robbie, they've had a couple of great weeks and I'm sure the experience they have gained with Ireland will have massive benefits for us as the season goes on.

Obviously it was a bit of a different for Robbie playing No 12 against South Africa, but I thought he acquitted himself quite well. The fact that there was a new partnership in there with himself and Jared Payne meant a lot of people would have been somewhat nervous looking in. Life after Brian O'Driscoll didn't go too badly, though!

It was a tight and tough game, but it will be a bit more open against the Australians tomorrow.

Impressed

Kieran and Rodney, it is hard to know what Georgia were like; it took them a while to break them down but the fact that they both impressed off the bench will be great for them.

It is good to see them pushing on and it looks like all three of them - and Nathan who was unlucky to pick up his injury - are in contention for the World Cup.

On the home front, all focus now turns to engineering wins against Zebre and Scarlets in two vital home games. Looking back on the first few months of the season, we have to be relatively happy with how we've done. We got a few good wins but we are disappointed in the ones we lost.

There were a couple of games that we felt we could have taken more from - the Glasgow and Cardiff matches spring to mind - but all in all we are happy that we are fairly much on track to finishing in the top half of the table.

Looking ahead to the next few weeks, it is going to be pretty hectic again with non-stop action until after Christmas. With that in mind it is pretty important that we get off to a good start tonight with a win against Zebre.

This week was all about striking a balance between preparing for the next couple of games, getting a bit of a hit-out in training, while working on our fitness as well. So it has been a tough week training.

Apart from a few injuries and the lads away at international camp, we finally have our full squad together. Tom McCartney arrived during the break and he is raring to go. Mils Muliaina is taking part in full training too, while Bundee Aki made his debut for us in the Ospreys game.

All three of them have played at a very high level and it is pretty clear to see that they certainly bring something different to the squad.

For a lad who had only been here a short time, I thought Bundee acquitted himself very well against the Ospreys, but to be fair, they all need time to settle in fully, get to know our systems, and all of the lads.

The collective focus this week has been on preparing to face Zebre. Like all Italian teams, they are renowned for their physical attributes, but there is a bit more about them now. We have to be ready for an assault up front and out wide.

In the last two years they have really started to show flashes of their potential and they have showed they can beat anyone on their day.

They were always competitive at home - they beat Ulster there earlier on in the season - and last year they picked up their first away win in the Pro12 against Cardiff, so that monkey is off their back too.

They are currently the top Italian team in the standings and they'll be coming to the Sportsground targeting a win to cement that position.

But we are very familiar with them at this stage. As well as the league action, we played them home and away in the Heineken Cup for the last two years.

They will be down a few numbers tonight due to international representation - like ourselves - but it would be wrong to expect them to come here and roll over.

We never disrespect Zebre, they are a lot like what we were in the past and we know what it's like to feel that teams underestimate you. We certainly won't be doing that.

We know in the last few years how hard it has been to beat them, there hasn't been an awful lot in it - they came close to beating us out there and in Galway in the last couple of seasons.

Any time we have taken the victory against them it was based on a powerful performance from our pack, and that's what we'll be looking to reproduce tonight.

If we can gain the upper hand in that battle, it should provide us with the tools to take the points. It is a tricky start to our next three games, but seeing as they are all at home, we are determined to start adding more points to our tally and retain our unbeaten record at home in the Sportsground.

Irish Independent