Tuesday 20 March 2018

Time for us to kick on with the end in sight

It's been great combining Ireland with Leinster but now we all need to narrow our focus to the Pro12

Fergus McFaden has been splitting his time between Ireland and Leinster in recent weeks.
Fergus McFaden has been splitting his time between Ireland and Leinster in recent weeks.
Fergus McFaden with Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt

Fergus McFadden's Player Diary

The last two months have flown by and it's mad to think there are only a couple of months left this season. It seems like only yesterday that we were getting our heads around pre-season and then a first trip away to Edinburgh in the Guinness Pro12.

From involvements with both Leinster and Ireland during this period, it's been a hectic schedule for me personally but a very enjoyable one. There was plenty of game time mixed in with some ups and downs but a valuable experience personally and as a squad.

From a Leinster perspective, the games during the Six Nations campaign in the Pro12 can stretch the squad these days with so many guys in camp and unable to play because of Irish duty.

It's a time when lads are handed opportunities and there were real positives gained from the experiences that younger lads have taken during this time. A lot of guys stepped up and grasped their chances with both hands.

I think you can also say that we learned some lessons from the same period last season. You just can't afford to take your eye off the ball at any stage.

Other teams see a vulnerability in us during this period and it's up to us all as players to show that we are just as strong as ever. I think we have seen a consistency this season that was maybe lacking last year.

I was delighted to be back in the shake-up with Ireland after missing out on the initial squad. I thought the campaign was one that will help the strength in depth leading into a very tough tour to South Africa in June. With some big players injured it was always going to be a big ask to win the competition for the third year in a row, a feat that no team has achieved.

After the initial setbacks with loses to France and England, it was a nice confidence-booster to finish with two wins and good performances at home in the Aviva.

As for England as champions, to be fair England were definitely the most consistent side throughout the tournament and deserve their first Grand Slam in 13 years. Eddie Jones has come in and has done a good job and they have bounced back very strong from a disappointing home World Cup.

The next chapter for the Irish squad now is to try get picked for the upcoming tour to South Africa and go there to get a first win for Ireland in South Africa against the Boks, which is an exciting challenge in itself!

All you can do, all any of us can do, is put your best foot forward for your club and the good thing is that there are some really exciting inter-pro games coming up for us all. We obviously start with Connacht this weekend, but we also have Munster in the Aviva Stadium and Ulster away.

As I said, Leinster's last two months have been positive in my opinion, and winning four from six was satisfying considering the amount of players we had away with Ireland and through injury. I think we have left ourselves in control of our own destiny now which is exactly what we wanted going into this last block of games before the play-offs. If we continue to win and pick up points, we will finish in the top four, but in saying that we couldn't have a tougher run-in. The inter-pro games are never easy and we lost to Edinburgh already this season.

As disappointing as it is for us not to still be involved in Europe for the knockout stages, it provides us with an opportunity to solely focus on the league now in what has been a very competitive one so far. It's the tightest the league has been at this stage for as long as I can remember with more teams becoming consistently competitive.

Connacht are on a roll at home and have only lost in the Sportsground once in the last five games. They also have the best attack in the Pro12 so it's the biggest game we have had since our group stage Champions Cup matches and we are in for a tough match. After losing there last year we will have to be wary of the threats they pose. Hopefully we will have plenty of travelling support to cheer us on and be the edge we need to win!

Irish Independent

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