Player's diary: 'It's all about finals rugby from here on with our focus on silverware'
After a busy few weeks, it was great to have the full squad back together for what is a massive period for the club. The international lads were integrated back in to training on Wednesday and we once again had a full complement of players at training.
With the international games coming to an end until the summer warm-up games and then the Rugby World Cup, all the focus for the next while is exclusively on Leinster and on us backing up the double we achieved last season.
That is not to get ahead of ourselves, far from it, but that is the reality of the season. Up until this point there is always the possibility of something else bubbling away in players' minds and also national camps that obviously take players away from the club environment.
The main two camps are the Autumn Internationals and then the Six Nations. But this period of the season now is what all 54-plus players have worked so hard for since last July. To make sure that when the international commitments are done, that we are in the right place to head into the last few months of the season with total Leinster focus in the position we have worked so hard for. And, thankfully, we have done that.
A home quarter-final in the Heineken Cup secure and a home semi-final in the Guinness PRO14 secure. We have now entered finals rugby.
The last block of games proved to be a crucial period in shaping our season and getting us into the finals rugby mentality. Our three most recent wins against Zebre, the Southern Kings and Cheetahs got us finally over the line and secured us that home semi in the PRO14.
We also achieved a home semi-final last season but had to wait until the very last game and the very last points scored to be absolutely certain. It was one of the key work-ons we wanted to target this season. How do we get better? How do we keep that consistency over the course of the season so that we aren't relying on points difference? With four games to go we have that achieved.
This now gives us the opportunity to prepare for both the knock-out stages in the Champions Cup and the PRO14 and to plan out the next block with some certainty around the weekends given that we now know we won't have a quarter-final in the PRO14.
How did we manage it? I think we learned a lot certainly from last season and we analysed why the performance levels dropped. I think we also have more confidence in the group of players we have in our squad. The Irish lads went on Six Nations duty and that was brilliant but then the challenge was on the rest of us players left in Leinster to keep the standard sky high. It wasn't easy and we had to work very hard but it was great to get the reward for that hard work.
We also were able to enjoy a week off so myself and a few of the lads were lucky enough to get away to the sun in Portugal. A few days to chill out, enjoy a few beers and some very competitive rounds of golf was exactly what we needed after the tough few weeks of training and games.
It is always nice to enjoy the time together after an important block, especially coming into the business end of the season where trophies are on the line. With the group being as close as ever, it means we can drive the standards together and hopefully enjoy more great days of celebrations. But there is a lot of work to do yet.
There was also a lot of work done over the last seven months or so down the road at my old school St Michael's and I am delighted for everyone involved there that they managed to secure only a second ever Junior and Senior Schools Cup double.
I was lucky enough - along with Ross Byrne and Dan Leavy - to be invited down to help out a bit so I saw at first hand the dedication of their coaches, men like Emmet McMahon and Andy Skehan, but also of the players themselves. They were the ones that had to go out there on the pitch and put into practice what the coaching team wanted and they did that in each of the four games.
So congratulations to captain Mark Hernan and all the players, coaches and teachers. It was brilliant to be down at the school after the game and to share in the atmosphere and to see the joy on their faces. Well deserved. But they've the Leaving Cert now only around the corner to bring the sixth years back down to earth with a bang!
Back to the game this evening, it's a must-win game for Edinburgh. They sit just behind Scarlets, Ulster and Treviso, meaning they need all the points they can get in order to have a chance at the knockout stages. For us, a part of tonight is putting right last year's wrong over there. We went over to Myreside last season and allowed ourselves to be bullied and lost to a late try.
A lot of the lads involved this week would still taste the disappointment of that game and will be looking to make amends. But Edinburgh have shown great form at times this season, in Europe in particular, and will no doubt look to carry some of the Scottish Six Nations form with them too.
For us, it's about keeping our performance levels high as we build in to this next block of games and indeed into next week and the massive sold-out game against Ulster. It doesn't get much bigger than a sold-out interpro!
Coming Soon: Independent.ie's new GAA newsletter. Sign up here