Wins in difficult conditions like Cardiff are huge
Player Diary: Isa Nacewa
The last two weeks and a trip to Cardiff have brought memories flooding back and sometimes it's good to take stock. My first few games for Leinster were way back in August 2008. Pre-season friendlies against Benetton Treviso away and then a week later a first home game in Donnybrook against the Queensland Reds.
A week later the first official cap for Leinster though was against last week's opponents Cardiff and it was also at the Cardiff Arms Park in September 2008. Believe it or not, the next time I got a chance to play there was last week in what will be remembered by me anyway as the coldest game I have ever played.
It wasn't so much the temperature which was cold in itself but rather the 60-plus km/h winds that got worse as the game went on. Being out on the wing on a day like that doesn't get the blood flowing too quickly!
How strong was the wind? Seeing Rhys Patchell taking shots at goal from 70 yards out gives you a sense of how windy it was! We only had a three-point lead at half-time having played with the wind and you always wonder will it be enough, but massive credit to the boys for the way they went about their business.
And what a feeling it was to get that win. The conditions, yes, but talk to anyone that has gone and played there, it's always a massively tough place to grind out a win and the way we scraped the win does a lot for our squad.
Little things like Redser's block deep into the 80th minute on Rhys Patchell who is well able to hit drop-goals. Everyone went to the wire on that one.
With fresh injuries in Ireland camp our Monday morning squad looked even lighter than usual. But Zebre are at the front of minds, having only played them two weeks ago.
They are a different beast at home and have taken two big scalps in Edinburgh and Cardiff in the Guinness Pro12 already this season. They have also gone well in the Challenge Cup with three wins from six so have a new sense of urgency to them this season as they seek to gain qualification to the Champions Cup next season.
This will be their third Irish side in four weeks and their second time against us. A few weeks back they were within four points of Munster. Last weekend they welcomed Connacht to Parma in a classic encounter but they came up short. But they did so having scored 34 points and gaining a try bonus against the team at the top of the table. That will set them up nicely for us and they will feel that if they can tighten their defence that their attack can cause damage. So it just goes to show you what type of battle we have on our hands this week.
Once again it will be a great opportunity for a lot of young guys to put their hands up to the coaches. Garry Ringrose has continued on his outstanding, consistent form and it will be good to see him again. As it was a huge bonus seeing Jack Conan back on the field for us against Cardiff. In true Jack style, he grabs a MOTM award in his first game in three months.
Before I move on from Cardiff, though, a super special mention has to go to Mick Kearney who played his first game for Leinster after a horrid bad run of injuries and luck. Every single player and colleague in Leinster has marvelled at the hard work Mick has put in over the last year.
These past few months we have all witnessed his desire to get himself fit and available for selection and to his credit he put in a hard-nosed shift against Cardiff. You see a guy in the gym like that week in, week out but we all know what it's about and personally it's great to see home back on the pitch training and playing and hopefully he goes well again on Sunday.
Looking at the schedule we'll land into Parma on Saturday and should be back at the hotel in plenty of time for the England and Ireland game in the Six Nations. Again it is great to see so many of our boys involved in the squad and, in particular, the whole squad will be cheering for Josh van der Flier in his first Ireland start.
But then the focus switches and for us it's all about Sunday. Bring on Zebre.