Sunday 18 March 2018

With Toulouse behind us, we're ready to kick on for crucial weeks

Player Diary

Denis Buckley will be hoping to get back into the swing of things after being laid low by a chest infection. Photo: Sportsfile
Denis Buckley will be hoping to get back into the swing of things after being laid low by a chest infection. Photo: Sportsfile

Denis Buckley

I was as sick as a dog for the week off. I came down with an awful chest infection for the week of the Toulouse game. I came through that, but it knocked me back a bit. I was recovering for most of the week after that. Nevertheless, it was nice to have time to yourself and to be away from the Sportsground - but it's back to business now.

There was a bit of frustration after that Toulouse game. We probably didn't perform that well as a team, when you think that we didn't play our best and yet in the last ten minutes we were one kick away from a Champions Cup quarter-final, it was hard to take.

But we did our review and moved on. There are a lot of lads coming back from injury now. It's great for the squad and competition is huge, it drives the levels of training. You have more players on the pitch and lads competing for places.

We were obviously unhappy with how Toulouse went but we are in a good place at the moment. We need to get wins in the Six Nations window, and a few bonus points along the way, because we don't have too much of a safety net of games that we can afford to lose. We have got a good build-up to this Cardiff game. We will look to put in some good performances and results together, back to back.


The scrum has been going well and it's something that we haven't spent as much time on at the training pitch, with lads carrying niggles. But we have put a lot of work into it earlier this season, and in past years. We pride ourselves on it so it's great to see it performing well on the big stage.

There was a lot of talk about that Toulouse scrum in the week prior to our game over there. They had done a job on Wasps before that and every scrum they get they just squeeze penalties out of the opposition. Their game-plan is built around scrums, and as a prop, it was exciting going in to face that, but to perform against it was a real positive too.

Leading into these games and Cardiff, the scrum is crucial. In seasons past when our game may not have been firing, our scrum dug us out of a few tricky situations, where we won scrum penalties.

A lot of the time it can win you games and in the last Cardiff game we got a pushover try and were quite dominant for some of the game. But then we knocked off and they came back. They squeezed one or two penalties out of us which hurt us.

If we can play well collectively, it will drive out some good results. It can give our backs good quality possession and territory, and when we get that we can be very dangerous. It's something we have worked hard on and hopefully it can keep improving.

Cardiff are a good team though. They recruited well last summer but even before that, they always stay with you in the game. Against them we have normally had good performances and gone into the last ten minutes with less than a seven-point lead. Two seasons ago over there, there was ten minutes of injury-time and they eventually got the winning try. So we know we must play for the entire 80 minutes or we won't stand a chance.

You have to match them, and you can't ease up the pressure. What they usually do against us is pick two sevens, and maybe a seven-and-a-half, playing at eight, to go after our breakdown. They have good defensive breakdown operators like Josh Navidi. And they also have some big ball-carriers too and good outside backs.

When you are playing on that 4G surface it's normally more expansive and open. It's going to be a good game but we have to win and target a bonus point as well.

It was fascinating watching Ireland and Scotland in their Six Nations opener at Murrayfield last weekend.

I thought Ireland would wipe the floor with Scotland especially with the way the scrum went early on in the game. When you get penalties there it is a great platform to give you territory. Ireland have a great lineout and maul too but there weren't enough scrums in the game for them at the start.

A big turning point for me was the five-metre scrum that Ireland had early on. Scotland just found another level at scrum-time to hold them out and ultimately that turned the game in their favour.

Scotland's attack in the first half was pretty good. They threw the ball about, got it wide and even though they were criticised for losing, Ireland were unlucky.

In the second half, Ireland had over 80 per cent possession at times and they will be bitterly disappointed for leaving that game behind them. But there were a number of positives to take from it too.

And people still underestimate Scotland - that is a very good Scottish team. Glasgow have been dominating in the Pro12 for a couple of seasons, and they qualified for their first ever Champions Cup quarter-final last month, and their team is full of Scottish internationals. That was always going to transfer onto the international stage, and that is what we are seeing now.

But Ireland will bounce back and Italy is a good match for them, even if it is in Rome. Ireland can work on some of their combinations and hopefully get a decent win. It's important they do going into the final games. If they can put in a good performance against Italy, it will help to build some confidence and it can be a turning point for them.

Irish Independent

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