Our 'first day at school' is over . . . and that's a relief
Summer break has its consequences but we're back and gearing up for mini-tour to South Africa
Just as it is great to be back in the new season it's also great to be back writing my player diary! How I've missed those deadlines! So here's to a long season and hopefully full of good moments and reflections on games.
Following the disappointment towards the end of last season, I took some time to switch off and get away. To take rugby off my mind for a few short weeks. Myself and a few of the lads headed to Croatia for two weeks. It was a chance to get some much-needed down time and some sun.
Croatia is a great spot and we managed to spend some time in a few places including Dubrovnik and Hvar. Very chilled and, as I said, superb weather.
But before we knew it we were back into UCD to kick off the new season. At this time of the year a lot of families are starting back in school having had the summer off. Well, it's a very similar mindset to the first day of school but with one crucial difference... the sick feeling of having fitness tests and fat scans!
But we got through it and after the challenging pre-season with the boys, everyone was delighted to be back to business in the new season with three pre-season friendlies and then the competitive games.
I suppose the main talking point of the summer was the new and improved Guinness PRO14 competition with the addition of the two new South African teams. This is hugely exciting and adds a new dimension to the competition, not only for the players but also from the supporters' perspective.
It is a privilege to be the first northern hemisphere PRO14 team to compete in South Africa on a mini-tour and the chance to be the first Irish club team to win there is not lost on us either.
It's crucial we build momentum in the opening games of the season. The pre-season games against Perpignan, Gloucester and Bath were great opportunities for us to implement everything we've worked on during the summer weeks. Not to mention a tough hit-out on the lungs.
There was also a record number of Academy players used in these games with 15 used in total. This exposure for younger players will stand to them as individual players and to the club in the months and years to come. And we have seen over the last few seasons that Leo is happy to put the lads in if they are going well.
Personally, I had an up-and-down pre-season. I was unavailable for selection in the earlier warm-up games due to a minor ankle injury. However, I was delighted when asked to captain the side against Bath and it was great to win that game with such a young squad. It was a fantastic opportunity for players such as Caelan Doris and Rónan Kelleher to get their first taste of senior rugby. I have no doubt this experience will give them a hunger for more.
Those games prepared us nicely for the opener last week in Rodney Parade. I felt we kicked the new season off well with a bonus-point win away from home. As this is a place where historically we've struggled to leave with a good result.
Cardiff travel to the RDS tonight after a home loss to Edinburgh last week. They will be looking to put this right. We will look to honour Devin Toner's 200th cap with a performance that he can be proud of but it won't be easy.
Against Cardiff we face a severe test at the breakdown from the likes of Josh Navidi and Nick Williams. This is an area we have focused on during our pre-season training. In order for us to play quick, attacking rugby, our breakdown needs to be clean. Tonight will be a huge test for us in that regard and we will aim to create quick ball for our scrum-half.
A win tonight would build the spirit and confidence of the team ahead of our trip to South Africa. It's a hugely exciting few weeks but ultimately our goal is to come home from South Africa with two wins to set us up for Edinburgh and Munster.
So the first day of school is over! We are now just looking forward to a building on last season and doing our very best for the supporters.