We need to be wary because Cheetahs have firepower to hurt anybody
It's been a great block of games for us so far, having picked up ten points from the past two games. However, big challenges lie ahead with the Cheetahs visiting Dublin tonight before we travel away to Edinburgh after the week's break.
For me, it was a huge relief to get 80 minutes under my belt for the first time since October against the Southern Kings last week. The last game I played was against Munster in the Aviva before I picked up a bad hamstring tendon injury that kept me out for three-and-a-half months!
The rehab period was tough as you're not as involved with the playing squad and are very much working away in the background with physios and S&C staff to try get you back fit as quickly as possible.
I was working one on one with Karl Denvir, our physio, and I found the sessions and attention to detail second to none. My hamstring felt great and it was a nice way to return in front of the home support in the RDS. Coming back from a long lay-off certainly makes you really appreciate being fit to play and being out there with the boys.
This period generally tests a squad's depth with a lot of players away on international duty. There are two ways of looking at a time like this. Negatively and the impact it has on a settled squad or positively.
Leinster generally lose over 15 players but we look at it as a massive positive. How often have you heard the coaches in media talk about those aims? They want us to play for Ireland and to play at as high a level as we can. They want players to get selected for Ireland and to represent Leinster on the highest stage possible. There is no greater endorsement for the work done at schools and at clubs all over the province than seeing one of our players run out in green.
The other positive is that it helps develop the next generation. With so many players away it creates opportunities but it also places responsibility on the remaining squad members to keep winning and gathering momentum. That is invaluable for young lads in their development. Caps and exposure yes but also the chance to grow as professionals and to strive to keep those standards as high as they would be if all those lads were still here.
Last week we saw Rónan Kelleher pick up his first cap and Patrick Patterson score his first try on his first game at the RDS. It was also the first game at the RDS for Jack Dunne having only made his debut the week before in Zebre. These are all moments they will cherish for a long time and it was great to see them all play so well.
The competition for places is massive in the team and it's a big driver for the group for guys to play well when they get the opportunity. Similarly, the quality of training is ramped up as players are constantly looking to impress the coaches every day.
This window of games during the Six Nations is always very important for the league table and can be a great confidence-booster for the group leading into the business end of the season.
No more so than tonight when we face a Cheetahs team and while we will only be focused on a performance we also know the boost a good performance and win would give to our chances of securing a home semi-final in the Guinness PRO14.
While we were taking on the Southern Kings, the Irish boys spent last weekend preparing for and then playing Italy away from home. Thankfully, they picked up five points as Rome is not an easy place to go any more!
With Wales beating England there's an outside chance Ireland could still be in the shake-up to win the competition. If Ireland beat France and presuming Wales beat Scotland next week, it makes for a mouthwatering finish with Ireland travelling to the Millennium Stadium to face Wales in the last game.
There is a lot of negativity around them at the moment and they have been very honest with how they have addressed that publicly and I'm sure they will be working very hard behind the scenes to put it right too. But it is a great place to be in despite that shadow hanging over them.
They may have lost to England but two wins since then means we could be chatting about a Six Nations win in only three weeks' time. Sport is fickle and I know the boys will be doing everything over the next two weeks to at least give them that shot on the last day.
This week for Leinster we have Cheetahs in another home fixture. We are well aware of how well coached they are as a team and they have scored the third most tries after us in the league. We have not forgotten the lesson they gave us in South Africa last year, putting 40 points on us, so we know how big a challenge they will be.
They obviously had a great first season last year in the PRO14 reaching the play-offs and while they have hit more hurdles this season they are still only six points off the play-offs again this season.
For them to reach the play-offs two seasons in a row for a team new to the competition would be massive and they certainly have the firepower to trouble any team in the league. We have to respect that and make sure nothing comes easy.
They have come off the back of losing to the Scarlets in Wales last week and I'm sure they will be looking for a result in Dublin. I look forward to running out again to a loud home crowd in the RDS and hopefully we can get a performance and a win.
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