Thursday 22 March 2018

'20-20' vision as we eye up the big finale

After a hugely satisfying block of games, we get to down tools before end-of-season run-in

Fergus McFadden after victory over Scarlets. Photo: Sportsfile
Fergus McFadden after victory over Scarlets. Photo: Sportsfile

Fergus McFadden

Job done. The Six Nations block of games really could not have gone better. Twenty points from the 20 on offer with two games at home and two games away, it was a very satisfactory five weeks for us.

It is a difficult block of games for a few reasons. The matches during this period with the internationals away can be testing on the squad with so many Leinster lads in camp and it can be difficult to manage.

You also start off the block after a break from matches so there is always the danger of maybe loss of form individually and collectively.

But I think our performances highlighted the strength in depth that we have at the moment and how hard all the players are pushing for selection. There was little or no drop in standards and there was a brilliant focus from all concerned.

With a two-week break from games in the Guinness Pro12, we were conscious we needed to finish this block on a winning note so we have momentum on our side going towards the game against Cardiff in three weeks and then of course the massive Champions Cup quarter-final against Wasps in the Aviva. It is brilliant to hear that over 40,000 tickets have already been sold and while it is still a while away it is already shaping up to be a great occasion for all.

Personally, I was delighted to get back on the pitch after my long lay-off with injury. The last game I played was way back on October 1 so I was chomping at the bit to get back in the mix. The Edinburgh game was a bit too soon for me even though I felt good that week but I was good to go then for the trip to the Dragons.

Just getting back on the pitch was great but last weekend was awesome to be back playing at the RDS. This injury was difficult to manage physically but it was also testing mentally. It was a 17-week injury and it was the longest of my career to date but seeing the boys go so well during this time certainly drove my desire to get back stronger and to add more to the team.

There is generally a group of six-10 players injured at any given time so the sessions are tailored for the individual and then the group would all rehab and lift in the gym together at the same time. You almost become a team within a team as the injured group work off a different schedule to the rest of the squad.

An ever-present in that 'team' is Ed Byrne and I was delighted to see Ed back against Dragons two weeks after being out for 28 months with a career-threatening knee injury. His commitment and mental resilience through this tough time has been an example to us all. But topping that was seeing him come on and score a try last week in the RDS! It was my favourite moment of the season and you could see how happy the boys were for him after.

A lot of young lads stepped up in the past five weeks and helped massively in getting the 20 points. There is genuine strength in depth in every position in the team and it's a great place to be because it will be so important coming into the business end of the season.

Last week seven lads were signed on full contracts that had come through the Academy system. Home-grown talent is integral to the club and it's massive in driving the club's identity with people striving from within the province. Not many clubs in Europe have the ability to produce home-grown talent every year and it's a credit to the system within Leinster.

This week has been a down week for lads with a couple of training days to keep us tipping along before some huge matches ahead. It will be a quick turn-around for lads coming back into the fold after eight weeks in camp with Ireland. Hopefully that can boost the squad coming into such a tough block of games against the likes of Cardiff, Ulster, Connacht and Ospreys.

It's like knockout rugby from here on in the Pro12 as every point will be so precious for the play-off places in the championship.

And then our biggest game of the season is around the corner with Wasps coming to the Aviva. It is a very exciting block ahead of us!

Irish Independent

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