Consistency is the primary objective for Rob Kearney
There isn't much that Rob Kearney hasn't seen or achieved in rugby since his debut with Leinster in September 2005. But a chance to enjoy Christmas and New Year without worrying about game time was a relatively new phenomenon.
"It was unusual in that there were three inter-pro games between Connacht, Munster and Ulster all in a row so having played the Connacht game there was an opportunity to rest up in terms of game time played.
"So in that regard yes I was able to enjoy Christmas Day a bit more knowing that a trip to Thomond Park wasn't a matter of hours away but otherwise you are still in the environment during the week and you have to retain a huge level of focus.
"You are still prepping the match-day squad and making sure that they are as prepared as they can be for the games ahead as we knew we had to pick up points from the three games. So looking back on it, yes, there were the match days off, but you are still very much focused on the performances that need to be got and how best to get them."
About those performances. It has been well established at this stage that the performance was lacking against Munster in particular.
"It's hard for me to comment as I wasn't in the match-day squad but I suppose looking back over the three games as a block, Ulster was the high but the overriding feeling was that day against Munster. First off, Thomond is a very tough place to go and to pick up points so if you are not on the money, you'll get done.
"I suppose for me there was an opportunity missed to maybe right a few wrongs from the Aviva loss earlier in the season to Munster and maybe to get a level of consistency going after a positive performance against Connacht. For whatever reason we didn't turn up and the intensity just wasn't there. But Munster deserved their win and you wouldn't take it away from them."
After the performance and win against Connacht, that loss to Munster focused the attention right back on them as players and as a collective and none more so than on head coach Matt O'Connor.
Exactly at the midway point in the season, they may have been joint top in Europe but they were outside the top four in the Pro12. Not the Leinster way, they said. Make or break, they said. Head on the block time, they said.
"It's over the top, without a doubt. Look, we all acknowledged that the performances could have been better lately but at the same time internally we knew what we wanted to do and what we wanted to achieve. There was clarity around how we wanted to get there and by hook or by crook we were picking up the points.
"Yes, it is disappointing to lose to Munster home and away but there are other challenges that you need to focus on. If you get too bogged down in previous performances, you will never focus on the next game, which in that regard was Ulster.
"The reality too is that this is a results business so that four points against Ulster at home is the same as four points away to Zebre. It all has the same effect on the table. So yeah, we are aware of the 'noise' outside of the group but look at the tables? Top four and joint top."
Is the conversation going on in the stands and in media unfair then?
"Table-wise and points-wise we are sitting pretty. Those are the simple facts. Performance-wise, I think Ulster was very important for us and we needed to front up, perform but ultimately win. The difference between a win and a loss was huge; go ahead of Ulster and back into the top four or fall seven points behind Ulster and be further away from the top four than ever before.
"People are entitled to their opinions but there has to be an element of reality too about where we are in the standings relative to the impact of injuries and changes to combinations and patterns etc. That being said, I would also look at the huge positives of the last few months and look at the exposure the young lads got to top-end rugby and we are only weeks away, touch wood, from having everyone back fit and having our fullest deck to choose from. This is the business end of the season and exactly the time that you want to be in those top-of-the-table positions."
He is also at the mid-way point in his inaugural season as vice-captain. A new experience that he shares with Sean O'Brien as vice-captains to Jamie Heaslip and with Jamie not playing tomorrow against Cardiff not only does he line out at full-back but he does so as captain.
"It's a mixed bag if I'm honest. Obviously with the few lads retiring last year, that left a gap and being one of the more experienced players it was maybe only natural that it fell to the likes of myself, Seanie and of course Jamie. I enjoy the role but there is also the added responsibility that comes with it in particular during difficult periods and you maybe shoulder the burden more than most.
"Training this week has been brilliant though and the guys coming in have kept the quality up so it's been an easy week for me as captain. But then again it always is when the mood is good and you're winning!"
The next challenge is Cardiff this weekend and Kearney sees it as the biggest challenge of the season so far.
"So much has been said about the Ulster performance but now it's about backing it up with a second performance. Consistency is what has been missing but this weekend is a great opportunity for fellas. If we perform and build on what we did well against Ulster the result looks after itself and hopefully that would see us cementing our place in the top four and putting us in a really good head space heading into Europe.
"The Cardiff game is more about an opportunity and I think our lads are ready to take it."