Wednesday 17 October 2018

The competition for places in the squad is fierce

Player Diary: Rory O'Loughlin

Rory O’Loughlin, pictured here scoring Leinster’s eighth try against Dragons, says competition is intense. Photo: Sportsfile
Rory O’Loughlin, pictured here scoring Leinster’s eighth try against Dragons, says competition is intense. Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster's Josh Murphy (left) and Conor O'Brien. Photo: Sportsfile

There was a re-energised feel around UCD on Monday morning. The internationals returned from their successful November series and having had two days to recover from the Friday night fixture against Dragons, the group was fresh and ready to get into it.

The international window is always an enjoyable - albeit challenging - time for the club. With so many players away on international duty, it provides opportunity for some younger players to show what they can do and take on more responsibility.

Having lost to Glasgow before the break it was crucial we put a performance in against Dragons to get back to winning ways. Thankfully we did.

Friday night games in the RDS are always special and despite the cold there was a good atmosphere.

It was also a big night for a few of the lads. Ed Byrne made his first home start, Josh Murphy made his first start as well as his home debut and Conor O'Brien (pictured, right, with Murphy, left)got his first taste of the RDS from the bench.

What advice can you give lads like Josh and Conor starting out? More often than not you hear, "make sure you enjoy it".

While it's true, often these moments can be difficult to enjoy as nerves and pressure come into the equation.

I feel the best way to enjoy these moments is to make sure you look after your own role which hopefully results in tries being scored and Leinster being on the right side of the scoreboard come full-time.

After a shaky start in which Dragons put us under severe pressure we found ourselves down by 10 points.

Some simple words of wisdom under our own posts woke us up a bit and got us back on track. Once we fronted up and took care of our own jobs we were able to execute our game-plan and score some great tries which gave the crowd something to cheer about.

With the review of the Dragons game put to bed early Monday morning, our focus shifted towards Benetton Rugby.

In years gone by, a trip to Treviso may not have been considered a daunting challenge and with two crucial European games around the corner, from the outside looking in, people may think we have one eye already on Exeter.

However that is certainly not the case and that is largely down to the new PRO14 format.

With the way the format is set up the winner of each conference can reap massive rewards towards the season end and with Scarlets currently sitting on top of Conference B we cannot allow the point gap to increase. Benetton are also a much improved side this season and nearly beat Toulon at home a few weeks back in the Champions Cup.

Having watched their game on the weekend when they nearly beat Ulster we are fully aware of the challenge ahead.

Those PRO14 and Champions Cup challenges are considerable but actually some of the most competitive exchanges take place on the training pitch in UCD.

With the internationals back in, new recruit James Lowe settling in nicely, and players such as Isa Nacewa and Garry Ringrose returning from injury the competition for places is as high as I've seen in my time at Leinster.

As backs we often run starter plays and would play one backline against the other and apart from one group wearing bibs you would struggle to distinguish who were the starters and who were backing up that weekend.

This level of competition is ultimately beneficial to the team that takes the field on the weekend, however it can also lead to one or two review clips you'd rather not watch again.

I found this out the hard way last week when Tommy O'Brien left me for dead outside the 13 channel.

This was replayed a few times and then in slow motion during the backs review. Not pretty... but vital to learn and improve.

Momentum in a season is crucial and with some massive games on the horizon it is imperative that we generate further momentum this weekend against Benetton. A win tomorrow will position us well in the championship while also providing the group with confidence going into a period that will go a long way to defining our season.

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