We know exactly what is expected of us after the Ireland camp
Player's Diary: Luke McGrath
Happy New Year! It's my first time writing a diary piece this season so I've quite a lot to get through but I'll try to bring you up to date as we build up to a massive two weeks in Europe and of course Lyon on Sunday in the RDS.
I was delighted to be called into Andy Farrell's first Ireland mini-camp before Christmas. Obviously after the disappointment of the World Cup everyone was keen to get back to their clubs and put their best foot forward but you never know how a new coaching team will go, so when you get the nod it's brilliant.
Especially with the talent and the performances of all the nines playing in Ireland. There's huge competition and you never take those invitations lightly.
It was great to catch up with all the lads and also nice to see many new faces. We went carol singing on Grafton Street and collected money for Focus Ireland, which was a great experience. They do an incredible job tackling the homelessness issue in Ireland, and we were delighted to help out in any way we could. We were happy to do anything we could do to help, even if the singing wasn't great!
We only trained once in the new High Performance Centre in Blanchardstown but what a place. The new facility out there is amazing. We used the new indoor astro pitch which was a great experience.
The 'stock-take' camp was an opportunity to tie in with all the new coaches and take some ideas that they are putting in place for the season ahead. They let everyone know what is expected and left us all with a final message before sending us back to our provinces - put the head down and play well. We all know that the important Ireland squad announcements are not too far away and we all had games coming up to put our best case forward.
We had the game against Ulster already played by then but had Munster and Connacht to come plus the final two European games. The interprovincial matches are always special games over the Christmas period, there is a great atmosphere whenever Irish teams play against each other.
We were delighted with the win over Ulster, who have been impressive this season and have scored a lot of tries. The game was high-scoring and probably a great one to watch for the casual supporter, however it makes for an interesting review session on Monday morning and we were disappointed in the way we defended in the second half.
We knew Ulster would challenge us defensively, however, as a squad we know our defence would have to improve moving forward. A special mention to Tommy O'Brien and Roman Salanoa who received their first caps against Ulster in the RDS and were very well deserved. The first of many.
The Munster game was thankfully a big improvement in our defence. I thought the lads were incredible. Thomond Park is such a difficult place to get a result and the work-rate from 1 to 23 was class. The conditions were very difficult with the wind and I felt we managed it very well. Rowan Osborne deserves a special mention after making his first start in Thomond Park. He has been working tirelessly in training this season and it was great to see him take his opportunity so well.
I suppose I also have to mention the try-scorer that day Ed Byrne, he is beside me here and making me write this - one of the finest tries you'll ever see!
The Connacht game was a brilliant first-half performance that we were pleased with but we didn't manage to continue this in the second half. It was a great win but as always there are areas we can certainly improve on and that's what you want.
What we also saw in that game was how quickly a season can change for a player. On behalf of the Leinster squad, I just want to wish Conor and Stephen Fitzgerald, who were forced to leave the pitch through injury, a speedy recovery. Unfortunately, injuries are a part of the game but that still doesn't make it any easier when they happen. Hopefully they can get back as soon as possible and we all wish them well.
So it was great to finish the interpros with a win in front of a sold-out RDS and while we are delighted we do also understand we still have to improve. The results have given us a great platform leading into the New Year.
This week, we are back to Europe. European weeks are always special and you see the intensity in training rising and the excitement building. We have Lyon this Sunday at home which we are really looking forward to.
Lyon are a very well-coached team that play an offloading free style of rugby and have world-class players in their squad.
It was a difficult game when we played them in November and this Sunday will be no different. They are second in the Top14 and are just after beating Agen last weekend. They will come to Dublin full of confidence and it should be a great game.
It has been unbelievable to see the support so far this year, especially over the Christmas games and no doubt we will see another one this Sunday.
The support we get never goes unnoticed and we very much appreciate it and we are all looking forward to the RDS on Sunday . . . and hopefully another sea of blue!