Saturday 21 September 2019

Toulouse are an 80-minute team and we'll need to be at our very best

Josh van der Flier, pictured celebrating after Adam Byrne scored a try against Toulouse in round 5, will be wary of Cheslin Kolbe’s threat. Photo: Sportsfile
Josh van der Flier, pictured celebrating after Adam Byrne scored a try against Toulouse in round 5, will be wary of Cheslin Kolbe’s threat. Photo: Sportsfile

Josh Van Der Flier

This is an incredible week for the club. The goal coming into the Champions Cup was to get a home quarter-final and ideally a home semi-final.

The pool stages having started so well at home obviously took a turn away to Toulouse in Round 2 and after that the goal was very much in doubt and we needed to work extra hard as a playing and coaching group and also rely on some good fortune from others.

To have worked our way through the next four rounds of the pool unbeaten and then Ulster last day out, and to now be in that position and in the Aviva for the semi-final in front of our fans is incredible.

Obviously it wasn't all down to us and it took a brilliant performance from Toulouse, away from home against Racing and with only 14 players for 60 minutes, to get them through their quarter-final and in turn bring the game to the Aviva.

So between our own efforts and then the Toulouse win, here we are - where we set out to be at the start of the pre-season. We have definitely done it the hard way which maybe makes it all the more satisfying.

Knock

As I said, Toulouse are a familiar opposition as we played them in the group stages. I didn't last very long in what was a tough first group game against them away from home, coming off with a head knock.

But the game in the RDS in Round 5 was probably one of our best performances all year and, thankfully, I managed to get through the full 80. It was a really good all-round team performance and I think, between that and maybe the Wasps game in the first round, definitely one of our best days of the season.

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We got the win that day but Cheslin Kolbe's try in the last minute showed how dangerous a team they are. Even him on his own, I think he ran over 120 metres in that game. He was a livewire and a threat every time he got the ball.

Since then they are in fantastic form. Looking at them playing in the Top 14 they have been very impressive. They lost a few weeks back to Toulon but that was their first loss in 16 games, I think.

The way they play they look like the Toulouse I would have watched when I was younger. Tough forwards but then backs that can win a game on their own. They have been a joy to watch... but now we have to stop them!

Their win in the quarter-finals while down to 14 for most of the game showed what a strong and cohesive team they are. Even last week they scored their try late in the game against Clermont when everyone thought that they were done for. A full 80-minute team and we will need to be at our very best.

I'd be lying if I said it wasn't incredibly frustrating to be missing out on this time of the season. And for the second year in a row. It is always special playing for Leinster but playing in the knockout games would have been very special.

As with all injuries and like last year, all I can do is focus on what I can control and that is trying to improve on what I can and work hard on my rehabilitation.

Already the time is moving on and it is a month this week since I had my surgery and I am feeling really good. It is still a relatively long-term injury but to be well on the road back feels good. The surgery went well, the groin is quite an uncomfortable area to have surgery so it meant I was in a bit of discomfort for a couple of weeks.

Now, a month on I can move around well and am back doing most things in the gym, so I can work at getting stronger and the plan is to be back and raring to go for hopefully a strong pre-season.

I finished up this week for the semester in college. I had a group assignment and an exam due at the beginning of the week, so stress levels were high.

Despite being injured, it's not like you just stop playing rugby. Rehab can sometimes be just as time-consuming as when you are playing so it is still difficult to make time for study and getting assignments done.

It didn't help either that I had missed a lot of lectures during the Six Nations so it's fair to say that I have had easier exams! But I was happy with the exam in the end and it was a serious weight off my back to have it done. In and amongst the rehab and the study I managed to get a long weekend in Spain a couple of weeks back to freshen up a little and have a bit of a break.

Benefit

It was nice to get a chance to get away from rehab and training and have a bit of relaxation time. As strange as it sounds, it can be hard to take a break when I am trying to get back playing as soon as I can, but you nearly have to force yourself to take the down time and it will hopefully benefit me down the line having had a bit of a rest.

This time of the year always brings comings and goings. I have said before that I would love if nobody ever left Leinster because we do all get on so well. But this one is different as it's not only a team-mate but also a house-mate moving on.

Tom Daly will be missed in the house! He has been on loan with Connacht for the last while and last week it was confirmed he has signed on with Connacht full-time. We are all delighted for him that it has worked out though and with their play-off place secured in the PRO14, we may meet him on the pitch before long! But we all wish Tom - and all those leaving - every luck in the future.

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