Wednesday 21 February 2018

These are the weeks for which you play rugby

Player Diary: Tadhg Furlong

Leo Cullen is applauded off the pitch in Sandy Park after Leinster victory over Exeter on their last visit in 2013. Photo: Sportsfile
Leo Cullen is applauded off the pitch in Sandy Park after Leinster victory over Exeter on their last visit in 2013. Photo: Sportsfile

After a busy Guinness Series and being away from home comforts it's good to be back in UCD and building towards a big few weeks with Leinster.

You never take those days for granted though. The email you get from the IRFU with your name included and that first schedule attached. It's what we all grew up dreaming of. The shade of jersey may be different depending on your sporting persuasion but the dream is the same.

Whether that is pulling on a Wexford jersey or a Leinster jersey or an Ireland jersey. To represent your county, your province, your country, whatever your sporting discipline; representing is what drives us all.

For the vast majority of people, it doesn't play out like that and if it did and if it was easy to achieve, the buzz you get when you receive those emails or when you pull on that blue or green jersey would be diminished.

But because of the work and the sacrifice that goes in not only by you, but by your family, your friends, partners, everyone attached to you really, it makes it all the better. And that was the case here again.

It was a hugely satisfying series. Obviously winning three from three was the ultimate aim and it's great that we achieved that but I think the coaching team looked at the challenge presented by South Africa, Fiji and Argentina and saw this as an excellent opportunity to look at some fresh ideas and some new faces.

It was great to see Adam Byrne's good form with Leinster rewarded with a first cap and also to see others like Darren Sweetnam, Chris Farrell and Bundee Aki come in and similarly make a good impression in green for the first time.

Other lads made first starts or like Rhys Ruddock captained Ireland at home for the first time so in general, we benefited individually and collectively from the series and I think huge positives should be taken from it as we continue to build.

It is always good to come back to UCD when you have so much to look forward to. If you can't get excited about the next block of games you are in the wrong business.

Over the next five weekends - as well as navigating any amount of turkey, ham and spuds - we have to negotiate our way through the reigning English champions Exeter and the other three provinces.

It's a hugely challenging fixture list in particular around Christmas when we have three games in 11 days.

For now though our focus is solely on Exeter. They have a very efficient set-piece and whether that's in Sandy Park on Sunday or on Saturday week in the Aviva Stadium, all of us know we will have a role to play.

The back-to-back fixtures are tricky. Nowhere else in the calendar does it play out like this. We had the situation with New Zealand last season playing them in Chicago and then in the Aviva a week later but otherwise this is unique to the Champions Cup.

It takes on an importance in its own right depending on where both teams are at coming into it and that is definitely the case this season.

Both unbeaten in Europe, both going well domestically and both with it all to play for. A bad performance for either is no final nail in the coffin due to how well both teams have started this season but sometimes it can be hard to regain momentum when it is lost.

That is definitely the case with the back-to-backs. If you don't perform or at least perform to a high level it can carry on to the next week and I know that both teams will be very eager, to make sure that we leave it all out there on Sunday.

The opportunity to play in the Aviva Stadium one last time this year is also something to look forward to. We've had some really special moments against English teams there the last few years.

Northampton, Wasps last season and playing England in March. The Aviva on days like that can be a special place and I know it will be a great again on Saturday week.

But as I said the focus all week for us is making sure that we are bringing that performance to Sandy Park first and foremost.

There are a few lads still in the squad from our last trip there in 2013 and they have spoken about it.

They have developed something really special over the years culminating in that Premiership win last season. Now their sights are firmly set on Europe. As are ours.

Something has to give over the next two weekends. Enjoy!

Irish Independent

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