Hoping to pick up where we left off in 2016
Player Diary: Isa Nacewa
Bliain nua shona everybody from all of us at Leinster Rugby!
I can't take all the credit here as my girls are learning Irish in school now so slowly but surely I am picking up bits and pieces. Not enough for a TG4 interview yet but enough to get through the homework!
So Christmas has come and gone and with that a new year is upon us but it was a good end to 2016.
First and foremost, it's always nice to leave the year behind with a win at the RDS. It wasn't a very complete performance against Ulster, but we will take the positives and look forward to an exciting three weeks ahead.
Everyone outside here has been focusing on the bonus point left behind and rest assured we know there are areas that we need to be better at. But what shouldn't be forgotten is the quality that Ulster had, that they are a top-four team in the hunt for the Play-offs themselves and if you had offered us a 22-7 win at the start of the day, we'd have taken it.
The narrative of the game leads itself to the maximum five points conversation but Ulster were always going to have a purple patch and they had that certainly in the second half. We dealt with parts of it well and other parts not so much.
As I said, room to improve definitely.
The great thing about three games in 11 days is the next game mentality. We had a great chance to bounce back from the Munster loss with Ulster only days later and the same here. Happy with the win but itching to right some of those inaccuracies. So first up and firmly at the front of our minds is Zebre at home.
Zebre presents the last opportunity we all have to impress the coaches for the impending Champions Cup matches. With the amount of rotation over the last two weeks, there is an extra bite in training as competition for places heats up. We all know the threat Zebre pose as the majority of their matches finish with seven points or less in the difference.
What does that tell you about a team? Well, for a start they are an '80-minute team' and what I mean by that is they play to the whistle regardless of the score so you have to be ready to meet that intensity head on and that willingness to keep battling. If you don't they have international quality throughout their team that will punish you.
Two of their last three games have seen them taking losing bonus points in the dying moments from games when they could have folded. That shows character.
The same when we played them away from home earlier this season. We were only 10-12 up at half-time and needed to be patient. That patience will again be tested tonight.
Looking back over 2016 and I suppose in particular the last few months of the year, it's been a real positive to see so many of the 'young' players really taking their opportunity and creating massive competition for places in the game-day 23.
Two really good examples are Rory O'Loughlin and Adam Byrne who are paving the way. These two have grabbed the opportunity by the scruff of the neck and don't want to let go. They alone have scored 11 tries between them in the past six games. That's hugely impressive for two players with a limited amount of senior experience.
But I think the rest of the younger players have stepped up over the last few months and are really asking hard questions of each other and of the coaches which is exactly what you want leading into massive games.
Luke McGrath and Jamison Gibson-Park are pushing each other to new levels in their game. Dan Leavy is building his own reputation with his hard-edge style of play. All these guys are really adding to the Leinster environment and raising our standards to a new level.
Even more importantly we are trying our best to build the RDS into a special place for us as a team and even more importantly for our loyal fan base. Its great to see the RDS packed to the rafters. There is no place like home. The supporters at the RDS really add a bounce in our step. I hope to see you all tonight. Slán!
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