Sport Rugby

Monday 27 January 2020

It's a vital run of games but focus must be on tough test against Ulster

Hat-trick hero: Garry Ringrose
Hat-trick hero: Garry Ringrose

Josh Van Der Flier

Not a bad few weeks to set up the festive period! Wins against Benetton and Lyon, followed by a great win in the PRO14 away to Glasgow and then back-to-back wins against Northampton Saints. It has been a brilliant way to lead into and kick off the Christmas season.

There is always a special atmosphere around the Christmas fixtures, European games and then the interpros which are always huge games for the club and the last few weeks were the perfect way to lead us into the interpros just around the corner.

Of course we start tonight with the visit of Ulster to the RDS. Talking to Claire and Niamh in our ticketing team, they tell me they've been kept busy and it looks like we'll have another sell-out. Coming so soon after 42,000 of you filled the Aviva and now to hear that the Ulster game and the Connacht game are nearly sold out, it's just brilliant to hear.

We never take for granted the support at home or away and in particular at this time of the year when there are many other pressures on every family, we very much appreciate it.

Drive

It was also brilliant to drive into the Aviva last week and to see the 'Sea of Blue' that waited for the team bus as we came near the ground. Again, we appreciate hugely the effort that it takes to get to the ground that early and to welcome us like that and we all know the OLSC do a great job organising those gatherings at home and away for our big days. Thank you.

Ulster this week is the start of a big block of three interprovincial games, as I said. Historically, looking back on past seasons this period of games, the interpros and then the final pool games in Europe tend to go a long way to defining how the end of the season looks.

We have also learned in years gone by that the points you scrap for and fight for at this time of the year can go a long way to deciding end-of-season seedings.

So what's the plan? Pretty straightforward really. I know there is a lot of talk about our qualification in Europe already but that is only part of the job done.

We are hoping to end this period well placed in the PRO14 and Champions Cup leading into the Six Nations period. That's the foundation we will need for the end of season run-in.

Naturally, we cannot afford to look past Ulster and all our focus will be on them in the RDS this week.

This game five years ago was my second game for Leinster and I can still remember how fast-paced the game was. No doubt it will be similar this weekend.

Ulster are nine wins from 11 for the season so far and have been playing some great rugby, they are in form and we know we will have to be at our best. Some of their games in Europe have been of the highest order and their wins over Clermont and Quins stand out.

What makes interpros special is not just the close rivalry between the teams and players but also that a lot of the time I find myself playing against friends who I would have played with when I was younger or have got to know through the Irish set-up.

Ireland call-ups are a double-edged sword around the club. There are people who will be disappointed this week and people who will be delighted.

Fortunately for me, I came out on the right side of squad selection for training camp. I am delighted to be involved in the training camp but it is obviously tough times for other players.

So while you congratulate the lads that have been called up for the first time, you are also conscious of those lads that have not. But they will also know that a lot can happen between now and the Six Nations and all their efforts will be focused on getting back for then.

But like every week, the main focus for me and everyone else is still on this weekend and trying to put in a top performance in what will be a packed-out RDS.

This week building up to Ulster had been very busy. We had training on Monday, and I went straight from there to get a quick meal and from there to an exam, the last bit of college work for the semester in the Dublin Business School where I am doing my master's.

It has been a highly stressful few weeks for me since the World Cup with the books. I missed the start of the semester, so it compacted my college schedule quite significantly.

I have managed to study after training every day. I took breaks the day before and day of games so that I could fully focus on my mental preparation but still all the other days it's been about getting back those lost hours.

That is something I have worked quite hard at this year, being able to switch on and focus my mindset for games even if there are other distractions and stressors which can make that difficult.

This was the case for college but also for the really big games where there is a lot of hype around them, it can definitely make it easier to get distracted.

With player management and squad rotation, I will likely get a break at some stage in the next few weeks. The games are all so big this time of year that it is tough to miss out on games for any reason at all.

However, there must be a balance to playing and the last thing I or any other player needs is to be burnt out so whenever I do end up with a weekend off I will be sure to use it to refresh and get set for another big block of games as we try to define the rest of our season in the next few games.

I might even step away from the books for a bit! So for now, have a great Christmas and thanks for all the support this year.

Irish Independent

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