Just because we stumbled doesn't mean we won't bounce back
Dia dhuit! I'm back here on these pages a little earlier than advertised but we'll get on with it and make the most of it once again. So how did we end up here?
I got bumped up two weeks ahead of schedule because my boy Fergy had to get surgery on his hamstring.
This is super frustrating for the guy, after being such a settled head in the back-three it's going to be tough for anyone to fill his shoes.
Everyone wishes Ferg the best of luck with his rehab. He has been unlucky the last while with injury but if there is anyone who knows the way to get back, raring to go again, it's Ferg.
I have also been bumped up because Lukey got called back into the Irish team!
That shows there is some very good depth at nine in Ireland if he can't make the summer squad but he is now being called back in, which is great for the guy! Best of luck, Lukey and I hope it goes well for you fella.
We had a busy old last few months, some intense interpros followed by two rounds of Champions Cup. It was an intense few weeks in and around those games, a lot was at stake but it's interesting to look back on them now.
International Rugby Newsletter
Every month is always tough when you're defending your title. Those few weeks brought big teams to town in the PRO14 and the Champions Cup and they all had us in their sights.
There is a huge target on our backs so every week we know we have to be better.
So with that in mind, I thought I'd use this week's diary to talk about how bloody hard it is to win, and in particular to win away from home.
To then win away from home in the Champions Cup is incredibly difficult, especially in France.
It doesn't matter what 15 is picked, European weeks have an uneasy aura about them. There is so much tension throughout the week, so much detail, and you are expected to know everything.
We had our prep done and we knew what we needed to know. We knew how difficult Toulouse were going to be, we knew the atmosphere would be immense.
We knew the referee could be a factor, especially in a hostile atmosphere. We knew if we weren't clinical, we would give them life.
Give them life? What does that mean? Well, in France it means life to play and to let their emotions run wild, and wild did they run!
We gave away two penalties in the first five minutes - hands up, as one of them included my mistake in the air. But suddenly, the crowd came to life and we were down 6-0 10 minutes into the game. Blink and they're up by six. Blink and you give them life.
There is a huge sense of belief in this team though. We have been in situations before so we know that we can work our way back from anywhere. You'd rather not be 'there' at all... but if you are, we back ourselves.
So we clawed back just before half-time and the first 10 minutes after half-time we were dominating and in the lead! Trust. Belief. Processes. Don't give them life.
But from there it all went downhill and we left Toulouse with only one point to show for our efforts.
We spoke about this. Five years ago leaving France with a losing bonus point was a good outcome. Not anymore.
We demand more of each other as a group and we had control of that game heading into the final quarter but like I said, we gave them life. Fair play to them, they made the most of the opportunities they got. They're a very good team.
But it's only Round 2 and of course it's a round-robin format so we will get to see them again at a packed RDS in January.
Let's show them just how crazy and noisy the RDS fans can get!
And just because we stumbled at this hurdle doesn't mean we won't bounce back come the December rounds of Europe.
Toulouse are the team to chase and to beat now in our pool, but we will start that process away in Bath and see where that gets us for a return game at the Aviva a week later. There is plenty still to play for and when the time comes we'll be ready to go again.
Meanwhile, it's important to remember that November = Movember! That's right. It's November so that means letting it grow for a great cause and I'm super proud to be partaking in Movember again this year.
It's a cause based around getting men to go to the doctors. Seems simple, right? In the last 10 years my dad has been to the doctors 10 times.
That's once a year! Considering that he has probably gone five times in the last year it shows how often he hadn't been going before then.
Staunch and willing to just tough things out isn't healthy, it isn't healthy for your body or your mind. I encourage everyone to make sure your friends and family are OK. It's as easy as just asking 'how are you?'. Have an open mind. You only see what people want you to see. Is there more going on? Have an open mind and look after each other.
November is a big month for me too as my parents are coming for the month. The plan is to do a week-long trip from Belfast down the west coast of Ireland so here's hoping the weather stays good. Our trip will mainly consist of pubs and sport so I'm looking forward to it!
Stay safe team - and look out for each other this November.