Thursday 17 October 2019

Mike Ross: Lots to work on but we are in the last four

We all know a repeat of that performance won't beat Toulon, but we're only 80 minutes from a final

Mike Ross
Mike Ross
Mike Ross
Mike Ross

Player Diary- Mike Ross

A first diary in a few month and it's good to be back in Leinster colours again. First and foremost, thanks to Fanj (Darragh Fanning) for standing in for me when I was away - he kept things tipping along and didn't rock the boat too much!

So after the highs of the final-day Six Nations drama, it was back to the more usual routine this week, if you can call preparing for a Champions Cup quarter-final 'routine'.

Those of us who were the most heavily involved in the internationals got the better part of a week off, which was well received, while guys with less game-time got to have a crack against Glasgow in the Pro12.

I went to the game with my four-year-old, who despite the frenetic finish, contrived to fall asleep ten minutes from the end! It was a frustrating game: we only seemed to start playing after giving Glasgow an almost insurmountable lead, but in the end we were unlucky not to win.

Our second-half performance gave us heart, though, and we saw enough in that to know that when tested we could respond; we saw enough in that performance to know that we could go toe to toe with quality opposition.

It was a case of making sure that the first half didn't happen again, as if we started like that against Bath there would be no coming back.

Accordingly, we got together on Sunday night in the not-too-shabby surrounds of Powerscourt Hotel down in Wicklow. It has become a bit of a tradition to go away as a squad prior to the knockout stages of European competition and it gives us a chance to focus on the task in hand with no distractions.

Over the couple of days there we got some very useful work done ahead of the game, training at St Gerard's out in Bray.

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I must admit I was pretty worried going into the Bath game. I watched seven or eight of their games, and in every one their scrum was decimating the opposition. A stat flashed up during one of their games, and it was a bit shocking: for every two scrums Bath had they got one penalty! I'd never seen anything like it.

Now, we were a bit lucky that their two first-choice tightheads (David Wilson and Henry Thomas) were injured, but Kane Palma-Newport had slotted in fairly seamlessly so we knew we had to be on top form.

As well as this, Bath had most of the England backline in George Ford, Anthony Watson and Jonathan Joseph to add a bit of guile to the grunt, so it was always going to be a particularly tough day at the office.

The game on Saturday was one of the quickest I've played - the pace was certainly up there with international level and the GPS scores afterwards confirmed what most of us thought.

After an early penalty concession, our scrum did very well and we managed to extract some crucial penalties out of it.

Our discipline was really good too, probably the best it's been all season and we limited Bath to two kickable penalties.

We weren't so happy with our defence - we all missed our share of tackles, and that simply won't be good enough against Toulon, who have more than their fair allotment of big, powerful ball carriers.

So a repeat of last year's quarter-final, only this time in Marseille instead of Toulon's home ground. They'll be looking for an unprecedented third consecutive title, whereas we'll be aiming to get to a fourth final ourselves.

For now though we have to park the European competition for a week and turn our focus instead to the Guinness Pro12. There's a trip to the Dragons this Sunday, and we need every point we can get if we're going to stay in touch with the top four. Dragons beat us at home last time out, so we won't be lacking in motivation for this one. They've a good spine of players throughout the team with the likes of Toby Faletau, Brok Harris and Jason Tovey, and had a great win over Cardiff Blues at the weekend in the Challenge Cup.

Whoever gets the nod this weekend will have a serious job on their hands to make sure we're still in the hunt for two pieces of silverware come May.

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