Saturday 22 September 2018

As busy a festive schedule as I've ever known

Ulster next and then back into Europe, it's a testing block but the energy this week has been brilliant

Isa Nacewa has had little time to dwell on tomorrrow’s Ulster clash. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Isa Nacewa has had little time to dwell on tomorrrow’s Ulster clash. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Independent.ie Sportsdesk

There is an old saying...a journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step. And so it is to 2018! A new year, a new start and one hell of a long way to go in this season.

December was pretty full-on. A trip to Italy in the PRO14, followed by the two Exeter games in the Champions Cup and then the two inter-provincial derbies. It was full-on, hugely physical and took its toll on players and staff. There is, of course, still one more 'festive' fixture to come with Ulster coming to town on Saturday in the RDS.

Josh van der Flier during Leinster rugby squad training. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Josh van der Flier during Leinster rugby squad training. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

A special mention must go to all the back office staff at Leinster Rugby HQ. They worked tirelessly all year and in particular in the lead-up to the Aviva game at Christmas.

Getting 40,000 through the gate for Exeter in the Aviva and then a further two full houses at the RDS for Connacht and Ulster doesn't just happen, it takes hard work on and off the field and we as players know how much goes on behind the scenes and are privileged to have such an awesome group in the back office keeping the Leinster train rolling.

As the majority of Ireland rang in the New Year with family and friends, fireworks, and one or two pints of Guinness we were all tucked up in bed preparing for Connacht. Even those not involved in the match-day squad could have gym sessions or pitch sessions early on match-day. No rest for the wicked!

As fierce as inter-pro derbies are, it's always good to start the New Year with a solid win and it was brilliant to get tested the way we were against a very good Connacht side. Doing it in front of more than 17,000 supporters at the RDS made it all the sweeter. We hope you enjoy those ones as much as we do!

Jordan Larmour, who made a big impression on his European debut. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Jordan Larmour, who made a big impression on his European debut. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

A mention must go to Josh van der Flier (below) who amassed 36 tackles against Connacht. Not only did he tackle on 36 occasions but his accuracy was also a mind boggling 36. So 100pc accuracy from minute one to minute 85 - as it was against Connacht - and no let-up in intensity or accuracy.

Then you look at big plays like the one towards the end when he drove a Connacht player back five metres from our line when they were driving hard. That lifts the team, the crowd, everyone. What a performance and a phenomenal stat. It is easily the highest I have witnessed in my career.

Without a doubt he will surely aim to top that number before the end of the season! No pressure Josh... but that's the type of competitor he is.

But that was then. This is now. With three games in 11 days there is no time to dwell this week as a fired-up Ulster side are heading our way only five days after the Connacht win. When you consider that we had two Champions Cup games before then and another two after this weekend, it's as demanding a schedule as I have seen.

It's not often we are in the day after a game. But that is the case this week as the schedule is so tight. It's a funny atmosphere too because emotions are still high having played not even 24 hours before, but we go through our usual reviews and take some key learnings and start preparing for Ulster.

The squad is always tested at this time of the year, as many of our Irish internationals are due some timely family time and much-needed rest after a full-on two months but that's when others need to step up.

There is a real brotherhood within our squad at present and competition is at its highest during my time at Leinster. There is so much talent within our squad and everyone wants to impress the coaches with European games just around the corner.

One man impressing again is Jamie Heaslip. It's great to have Jamie back around the place. His work ethic is like no other and his energy and buzz is contagious. I definitely notice how quiet it is when he isn't around. Fingers crossed everything goes to plan in his rehab and he's back out on the paddock soon.

Special mention too to James Lowe who made his home debut recently and to Andrew Porter and Jordan Larmour for their European debuts. Bright futures ahead of them all.

To all our loyal fans, bliain nua shona, agus feicfidh mé sibh go léir go luath!

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