Sunday 15 December 2019

Outstanding early-season work will benefit us at business end

Fergus McFadden
Fergus McFadden

Fergus McFadden

Nine points from 10 in our first pool games in Europe and all thing considered we can be very satisfied. The integration of the Irish lads has been very positive for everyone.

It was great to see the boys again but of course it was much sooner than we all would have hoped.

The nice thing for that group who had travelled to Japan was the fresh start when coming back to Leinster.

The amount of work and effort that had gone into those first five games from a much younger and inexperienced squad was outstanding and will stand to this team for a long time, not just over the months ahead this season.

Players like Mikey Milne, Harry Byrne, Jack Aungier and Rowan Osborne will reflect fondly on this block forever.

Getting presented with your first Leinster jersey, getting your official Leinster cap number (each player has an individual number going back to the first Leinster team to pull on a jersey).

Milestones

They are all little milestones in hopefully a long career but those first games and experiences are massive. It's a reflection not only on you but your club, school, family and coaches.

I still remember my debut against Cardiff Blues in September 2007. Those moments stay with you throughout your career. They are what you have worked so hard for and then you get handed that chance. That is all it is.

Hopefully it goes well and you kick on and that's what you'd wish for the lads above. The start of long careers in Leinster colours.

Of course there were others who have not made debuts but made significant steps in their own journey - debuts in Europe or first starts in Europe or in the RDS.

The game-time and exposure that younger guys got during this period was invaluable.

As I said, it's a really good solid foundation for the team for this season to now build on but of even more importance when we look further down the track and consider the first steps that have been taken over the last eight or nine weeks.

On a personal note, I've had three or four frustrating weeks of rehab on an elbow injury I picked up in training. It's a little bit frustrating as I said but it's a long season and the games come quick and fast leading into Christmas so I'm looking forward to adding as much as possible now that I'm back on the field and fully fit.

The last two weeks were good performances and certainly a good start to the Heineken Champions Cup. The group knows there is still huge levels of growth and learning to be taken from the games which is the most exciting part.

Some guys hadn't played a game since the World Cup quarter-final so there was always going to be rustiness within the different attack and defensive systems that are in the different set-ups.

But by hook or by crook we got there and all the players from 1-23 on both weekends got stuck in when they needed to and in particular last weekend, rolled up their sleeves and got stuck in against a team at the top of the French Top14 and with their European season on the line.

In addition to this, Lyon were a huge challenge to play in France; they haven't lost at home in 14 matches.

So we knew what was ahead of us but we also took some lessons from last season in particular.

We saw just how quickly things can turn when we lost to Toulouse away last season. And that was after a bonus-point win at home to Wasps.

But France and the crowd and the energy has that impact on teams.

That game was very much in the front of our minds leading into Lyon however, and we were aware of the areas that needed to be much better.

It is one thing knowing it or thinking you know what's coming, it's another thing actually dealing with it and putting into practice what we had discussed.

Our set-piece held up very strongly and the defensive effort was incredible.

Not many teams would go to Lyon and stop them scoring a try for 80 minutes.

They're an extremely well coached side with Pierre Mignoni very well regarded and they are sitting in top spot in their league for good reason.

So to come away with the four points and with our try-line intact was a good weekend's work.

Different

This week poses a different threat but it is another big challenge before the back-to-back matches against Northampton in Europe before Christmas.

We are in a strong position in the league at the moment but need to maintain the momentum that has been built up by the squad.

Glasgow Warriors are always a huge test, particularly over in Scotstoun.

They have a brilliant team as we saw when they got to the final of the league last season and are well coached under Dave Rennie.

He has announced recently that he is joining Australia at the end of the season so they will want him to go out on a high and while they haven't started the season as well as they would have liked, we know how up for this they will be.

I'm looking forward to getting back on the field with the boys after a short lay-off and hopefully we can get another big win on the road!

Irish Independent

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