Wednesday 11 December 2019

We've had a flying start but Ngatai and Co pose scary threat

Player Diary

Danger men: Josua Tuisova (pictured) and Charlie Ngatai are two players I know well. We’ll need to watch both of them carefully tomorrow
Danger men: Josua Tuisova (pictured) and Charlie Ngatai are two players I know well. We’ll need to watch both of them carefully tomorrow

James Lowe

Hello, hello! What an absolute belter start to the season. The boys have been playing out of their skin and it has shown with the results. There is always that question mark at World Cup time. Numbers down, young fellas thrown in, target on your backs, fellas coming back from the World Cup, injuries, getting the Ireland boys up to speed when they do come back. Lots of questions to be answered in a short, six-game block.

Four boys that definitely answered the questions were Harry Byrne, Mikey Milne, Rowan Osborne and Jack Aungier. Congrats on the debuts. Just reward for the efforts in pre-season. But you can prep as much as you want - and we definitely felt that we had a good pre-season done - but until you take to the pitch, and you come up against a defence that has been studying you for weeks and looking to attack you, you never know.

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Six from six? Yes! And 29 from the 30 points on offer even better. But we all know it is what it is. A good start. A foundation to build on now for the rest of the season as the boys come back and get up and running. And we'll get back to that next week when we take on the Warriors over in Glasgow.

Intense

Another European campaign has started though and week one was nothing short of a fist fight. That's what European rugby is about though. It's the best of the best, intense pressure rugby where the cream rises to the top.

When the pools were being decided earlier this year, I was stoked with our pool. Boy, was I wrong! Fast-forward a few months and the landscape is very different. Pretty much an Italian international team, the current top-of-the-table French side and a rejuvenated Northampton Saints who are not too far away from the top of the Premiership themselves.

Charlie Ngatai. Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images
Charlie Ngatai. Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images

There was plenty of quality rugby in Northampton last week with the home side tearing it up in the first half and then Lyon storming back in the second half. Ultimately, though, it was Northampton that held out for the win.

But because of that, Lyon away this weekend poses a scary threat.

We have seen over the last few seasons that teams can lose their opening two games and still make the quarters but it's not easy. To have any chance you have to get up and running in the opening rounds and pick up something.

That focus is now on Lyon. Taking nothing from last week means they will be really focused on getting something out of this week. They are unbeaten at home too this season in the Top 14 so they are humming at home.

A lot of our own talk this week was about trying to learn our own lessons in how we manage the pool in the early stages. Flash back 12 months and we had a great win in the RDS against Wasps... but then!

So a lot of talk was about our away trip to Toulouse last year where we understood how tough it was going to be, yet we didn't play well enough to win (now look at Toulouse and how they kicked on and are now the Top 14 champions and had a great comeback win against Gloucester last weekend) and this week feels no different. Lyon are a very exciting team with so much X-factor it's scary.

Speaking of X-factor, I actually fan-boy the wing I should be coming up against this weekend, Josua Tuisova. His highlights reel is just ridiculous! I was watching it with my girlfriend and even she told me not to get hurt!

But he isn't the only man that we need to be zeroed in on. Charlie Ngatai (Lyon's 12), I feel, is the key to the team.

I was lucky enough to play with him in New Zealand and his rugby IQ is through the roof. Watching Lyon play, he is the puppeteer and that means he will be one of our big targets heading into this weekend.

We are no different to any team out there. First, you focus on your own game and your own performances. What do we need to do to make Leinster perform? But then - and like any team will try to do to us - you identify what makes them tick and you try to shut that down. For me, that's Charlie.

I'm looking forward to this weekend, France is such a challenging place to win and something I have never done! To anyone travelling over, travel safe and thank you for the ongoing support. Whether that is in the RDS or on the road I am consistently blown away by the blue that follows us around the stadiums. We will see you and hear you again this weekend in Lyon I'm sure.

Away from prep for Lyon, my parents have been over for the past week or so. It's been awesome and refreshing to have them here. Although I think my ol' boy could be addicted to Guinness after this trip!

The timing hasn't been great though with Benetton last week and now Lyon this week so unfortunately we haven't been able to do too much with it being European time, but that's the way it is sometimes.

A very sincere thanks again to everyone who has greeted them with arms wide open whether that be just out and about or last weekend in the RDS where they both celebrated birthdays. It means a lot to them to know I'm over the far side of the world and being looked after by good people.

Until next time, safe travels to all of you making trips to Lyon, Glasgow and Northampton over the next few weekends and see the rest of you hopefully in the Aviva in three weeks!

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