Tuesday 17 September 2019

Bath victories a huge tonic but interpro games will be just as tough

Team work: Jack Conan goes over for the first try against Bath which Tadhg Furlong helped set up. Photo: Sportsfile
Team work: Jack Conan goes over for the first try against Bath which Tadhg Furlong helped set up. Photo: Sportsfile

Fergus McFadden

That last two weeks was a really satisfying one for the club - getting nine points out of a possible ten in the crucial back-to-back European pool games.

The December fixtures are unique really as you don't have that element of competing against the same team week after week in the Guinness PRO14 so it's only during an international series that you get it.

It's a strange dynamic because not much can change in a week but at the same time if you take that mentality with you, you can get caught out.

It has happened to us against Northampton a few years ago. Great win away from home in Round 3, followed up by a loss in the Aviva in Round 4. And not even a losing bonus point to show for our efforts.

So those thoughts are never far from your mind as you set your sights on the back-to-back games. They are nearly a competition within the Pool and the consequences can have a massive impact on Rounds 5 and 6 in January.

Matched

For us we just knew that we needed to keep the pressure on Toulouse and make sure that we at least matched their results if possible. That wasn't going to be easy given the way Toulouse have been playing but also how difficult we knew starting off away to Bath would be.

Bath really put it up to the boys in the Recreation ground and from experience of playing there on a wet day, it's a very tough place to come away with a win.

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The boys that were over there all said the weather was a lot worse over there than what you could see on TV. What didn't come across on TV either, they said, was the underfoot conditions. Very wet, heavy and difficult to play on at times, especially in that second half when the heavens opened up.

Credit to our supporters for turning out in such numbers on a miserable day for rugby and we owe them all so much for the incredible support, which has been and is always a huge motivator for us. Flags or no flags, the players saw and heard you plenty.

The Aviva fixture wasn't much better on the weather front but it was always going to be a different scenario with a pitch that retains water better and a packed crowd of Leinster support there for us.

The fast start from the lads was key with that early try from Jack Conan after some lovely interplay with Tadhg, Garry and Johnny.

The most encouraging thing we took from the performance was the fact that we kept playing for 80 minutes and I felt we put them to the sword on the day. Again that is all a mental thing and keeping your work rate and your efforts up when maybe you are home and hosed. But the players stuck to the task at hand and I thought again the replacements had a huge impact when they came on, doing their own thing but also seeing the game out professionally.

As happy as the group was with the five points, we also know there is plenty to work on leading into some of the toughest league games against our provincial rivals in Connacht, Munster and Ulster over the Christmas period.

All three teams have had impressive European results of late and those performances have backed up what they have been doing in the Guinness PRO14. It's also great to hear that all three games are heading for, if not already, sold out.

What a brilliant advertisement for rugby in Ireland.

Personally, I am very happy with my progress on the rehab front as my hamstring is feeling stronger every day as I have been back running the last few weeks and the injury feels great.

My return to play is will hopefully be towards the end of January so the light is very much there at the end of the tunnel for me. I've been working closely with Karl Denver everyday and it's helped a lot that Robbie Henshaw has a hamstring injury similar to mine so a lot of our sessions are done together. It can be difficult when you don't have people alongside you with all the boys training separately on the field so having a few good lads there in the same boat can be a massive boost.

Connacht are on a five game winning streak and seem to have really found a nice groove and bit of momentum under new coach Andy Friend.

Mentality

I did some media for the Argentina game in November with Andy and he seems like a really nice guy who has a very positive mentality around how much focus he places on attack for Connacht. They will still be hurting from losing to us in the Sportsground earlier this season so we will need to play very well to beat them tomorrow in the RDS.

These three fixtures went very well for us last season as we managed to win all three and I feel we will need to be even better to do that this year with all three teams going so well at the moment.

This Christmas period really stretches teams with games coming thick and fast so there will be more focus on rotation where guys will get opportunities and will be expected to step up to the level that has been there the past two weeks.

Beating Connacht last year literally came down to the last play where Max Deegan managed to get a steal at the death to ensure a gritty win at home. No doubt we will need something similar this year. The last home game of 2018, it's sold out and I'm looking forward to us hopefully putting in another big performance for our home fans in the RDS!

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