Monday 23 October 2017

All our good work counts for nothing if we don't win

Ulster loss a useful reality check ahead of crunch clash with in-form Scarlets

Josh van der Flier
Josh van der Flier

Josh van der Flier

Regardless of what happens tonight against the Scarlets this is my last diary entry of the season and it's safe to say that it has flown by: 22 rounds of the Guinness PRO12 and eight games in the Champions Cup go in the blink of an eye and yet here we are.

In some ways what has gone before matters for little as we all set our sights on tonight. And that's the difficult bit. There have been plenty of positives this season but all the hard work throughout means very little unless we can finish the season with two wins.

It's a harsh barometer in some ways but having set our sights on a top-two PRO12 finish it's now on us to set new targets and goals, and No 1 is a performance tonight.

It hasn't exactly gone our own way in the build up and that has us on our guard.

The Ulster match in Ravenhill was particularly disappointing. We did not perform at our best and Ulster played well. Therein lies the problem - it's a simple game at times!

Of course it would have been ideal to go into the semi-finals with a win but in a strange way a loss can focus the mind and give everyone involved a reality check.

Fergus McFadden clashes with Andrew Trimble during Leinster’s defeat to Ulster. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Fergus McFadden clashes with Andrew Trimble during Leinster’s defeat to Ulster. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

I like to use a loss like that as motivation, learn from it what you can and put it right at the next opportunity. That next opportunity is the Scarlets in a packed RDS.

The build-up to Scarlets started with a welcome break. We were given four days off after the Ulster game to recharge. It was great. With college out of the way it was also the first time that I have actually been able to relax late in the season. Normally a break like that for me is spent with the head in the books cramming, like a lot of lads still are with exams ongoing. I don't miss it!

We came in then for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to train and then the weekend to recover. The fitness and coaching staff are very good at managing the amount of training we do and giving rests to people when they need it. Days off like last week help us to stay fresh for the big games.

Scarlets is no easy fixture. They have had a really good run in the last few weeks. They are a well coached team under Wayne Pivac with a lot of international experience and three Lions in their ranks.

Leo Cullen. SPORTSFILE
Leo Cullen. SPORTSFILE

Where are their main strengths? They challenge hard at the breakdown so it will undoubtedly be a bit of a battle at the ruck.

We played them during the Autumn Test window and again in the Six Nations, so both teams were without their internationals. They won comfortably at home, we did likewise in the RDS, but again with personnel likely to be so different on Friday nothing can be taken from previous results.

But being at home in the RDS is a massive boost and the crowd will have a big impact on the game, as they always seem to.

These weeks before big knockout games always bring a bit of an edge to training - everyone knows what is at stake.

Every single player in the squad wants to be playing which always means there will be people disappointed and others delighted. It is a tough time of year for selection. Lads who have played most of the games end up not playing just because of the competition for places.

Aside from the rugby, I finished my last assignment for my degree in Sports Management in UCD, so hopefully that is my degree completed. I was fortunate to have no exams this semester because they can be hard to work around training times, especially with big games coming up.

The Ad Astra programme in UCD has helped me hugely in facilitating getting the degree done. It would have been a lot more difficult if I didn't have some sort of support and the programme helps you manage your workload and your schedule.

I have no plans yet for next year but I am thinking of taking a year to do work experience in different areas to see what I enjoy doing to prepare myself for life after rugby.

But that is then. For now it's all focus on Scarlets and hopefully a special night in the RDS.

See you all then!

Irish Independent

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