Shane Jennings: If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail
Pulling up before a match isn't ideal but we had planned for it - and young lads stepped up brilliantly
Happy New Year! Hopefully you all enjoyed the festive period. Christmas time for a Leinster player and probably all professional athletes mid-season is the same the world over. It is always a challenging time of the year.
Not only do we have a busy schedule but we also have the distraction of all our friends and family taking time off and enjoying the trappings of Christmas and New Year's. That being said, it is what it is and, to be honest, we are all pretty used to it at this stage. So that means that it is a normal training week.
We trained all over Christmas with the exception of Christmas Day . The fact we had a game on St Stephen's Day meant that this was the only tweak to the schedule as normally we would have our Captain's Run the day before a game, but with having the 25th off it meant having the run two days out from the game.
The game schedule this year presented three inter-pro derbies and thankfully we started the festive period with a good performance and win against Connacht.
Unfortunately, we didn't maintain the standard of performance and missed out on an opportunity to stake a claim in the top four against Munster. It's tough on a number of levels when you lose on St Stephen's Day.
As much as you say you are used to it and used to the sacrifices, when you don't get the win it feels like a bit of a waste. We were all hurting after the loss to Munster. As captain on the night, I had the unenviable task of facing the media afterwards. I said it like it was. I was annoyed. I was pissed off. I wasn't alone either. It certainly helped focus our minds coming into the Ulster fixture.
The week leading into the Ulster game was as good as it has been all season. Personally, I took a bit of a knock on my hamstring against Munster so had to manage my week's training. It was the same hamstring that I had injured against Connacht and it kept me out of the game for 13 weeks but it felt good come Saturday.
I was going through my usual warm-up and unfortunately it didn't feel right. I was worried that it would go again and that I would be no use to the team if I started and also potentially re-injuring the hamstring, which would have been a nightmare.
We always plan for something like this so we warm up with extra players. It makes sense as it allows for late withdrawals and means that everyone is up to speed when the whistle blows and you're not calling a player in cold from the stands.
After a quick chat between Matt and I, a decision was taken by Matt to pull me out but thankfully after a scan on Sunday the damage was confirmed as limited and I will be hopefully available for selection for this weekend's game.
That said, I think a special mention should go Jordi Murphy and to Josh van der Flier for stepping in at late notice and playing so well from the start and from the bench. Young lads who were prepping for very different roles suddenly asked to step up. They both did it with the minimum of fuss and performed very well. Overall, it was a fantastic team performance and showed a great bit of spirit and backbone from all involved to perform in the manner in which we did.
At the end of the day it's four points, which we are aware of but it puts us right back in contention after a number of results helping us out over the weekend.
We find ourselves in fourth position only four points from the top but also very aware that if we don't perform and get the win we can be down in sixth position. The league is incredibly close at the moment and this weekend is huge in terms of taking advantage of our hard work over the last number of weeks.
Tomorrow sees us play in the last Pro12 fixture before re-entering the Champions Cup. It's a massive few weeks for the club and thankfully we are seeing a number of players coming back into the squad and team after long-term injuries. It has also been great to see Luke Fitzgerald get a run of games under his belt and he is getting better each game. It's been a hugely frustrating time for Luke and he is adding real value to the squad.
Cardiff are placed in ninth position in the league table on 22 points but we are under no illusions of what lies ahead of us. They have a strong squad of players and a very disruptive back-row unit, which are used to playing on the 4G pitch, which in itself is something we are not overly familiar with. Thankfully, we have been training in Donnybrook trying to get used to the surface and everybody seems comfortable with it. It's a big month ahead before we break up for the Six Nations, so we need all our great loyal supporters to get behind us and hopefully we can do the business on the pitch.