Hugely exciting few weeks and more to come
Saracens game was on our minds for a while but the next few games will come thick and fast for us
Saracens in the Aviva. What a week this was! This was a game we had in the back of our minds ever since it was announced way back in January. Being unbeaten in the Pool counted for nothing. The two-time European champions were coming to town. All or nothing.
We played Ospreys on the Saturday before and got beaten well. We reviewed this game on Monday morning and it was not easy viewing. As a collective, we did not perform to our potential which was disappointing; however, we had to learn from our mistakes quickly. It was definitely a wake-up call.
European weeks always bring an extra edge to training and this was no different. But the lay-out to the week is very similar regardless of the game and keeping that structure is important.
Monday and Tuesday were all about the detail on Saracens. We watched plenty of their recent matches, the plays they like to play, their defensive set-up and their individuals. No stone left unturned. From Wednesday to Friday, we focused on our plays and tactics. We knew what a challenge it would be to break down their defence; therefore we had to be accurate with the ball.
On Friday evening, we went to support the Leinster 'A' team in the B&I Cup quarter-final against Munster in Energia Park. It was a great game in tricky conditions with the lads coming out on top and booking themselves a semi-final away to Jersey RFC. It was a great lift going into the game on Sunday.
The Captain's Run was on Saturday morning in the Aviva. I always find this a great opportunity to become accustomed to relatively new surroundings. It is not often we get to play in a stadium like this, so when you do it is important to cherish it. We were gone within the hour just running through the patterns we planned to implement 24 hours later. It was feet up for the rest of the day and trying to manage the excitement. Easier said than done!
I think 3.30 is my favourite kick-off time. There is no waiting around feeling anxious, nothing is delayed and you also have a couple of hours after breakfast to have a lie-down. Regardless of the time, though, game day isn't easy. The nerves are always there but it is important to just trust the work you have done and focus on enjoying the occasion. I started playing rugby because I loved the sport and it is vital that I don't lose sight of that. This always helps me manage the nerves. Once the ball is kicked all the nerves are gone and it becomes all about focusing on each moment.
Walking out of the tunnel, through the smoke and hearing the roar of over 50,000 people was something I will never forget. The atmosphere was electric. As good as I've ever known.
The first half was tight. We started well with a great try by Garry Ringrose (inset, left), but our discipline was poor and we gave Owen Farrell easy points. At the break, we spoke about getting the next score and regaining the momentum. We managed to do this with tries from Dan (Leavy) and the ever-smiling Lowey! Saracens came back strong as we knew they would but thankfully we closed out the game well.
It was one of the more physical and high-paced games I have been involved in so the body took longer to recover. I also picked up a small injury to my ankle. However, it has been progressing really well and I hope to be back in contention for next week. The lads had a solid win against Zebre last Saturday. A special mention goes out to Gavin Mullin making his debut for Leinster. Gav is also my first cousin so it was extra special for the family. Gav has made great progress this season and no doubt it was the first cap of many.
This week it's Benetton in the RDS. An important game for us as we want to finish the PRO14 with a home semi-final. They have picked up ten wins this year and are in great form under Kieran Crowley. This game is also important to keep momentum high leading us into the Scarlets next week.
A busy time ahead for the club but it is an extremely exciting place to be. Now, it is all about narrowing our focus and taking it one game at a time.