After Castres, all we want to do is tear into the interpros and win again
After such a sickening result in France, it was good that we were so busy earlier this week, between Ireland camp and preparations for facing Ulster tonight, but it still was pretty annoying to leave Castres without the win.
We definitely felt like we left one out there. It would be nice to win a game in France as it's such a tough place to get a result in. It was wet, cold and a really ugly game, but we thought we had done enough to win it. To only have a losing bonus point for our efforts was disappointing.
What makes it tougher is that it would have been seven wins on the bounce for us. Nothing would have been said if we'd edged a win, but knowing that we could and should have won it is incredibly disappointing. Despite losing we're still three points clear at top of our pool, which is a nice cushion to have with two games to go, but what it did do was give all the teams a bit of boost. We could have had them dead and buried.
The ferocity of the game earned a few headlines and there have been a couple of citings since then, but when things like that happen in a game it is more frustrating than anything. You might expect us to lose our cool, but it's more that you end up thinking about things that you shouldn't have to worry about on the field. If the officials think anything untoward happened, punishments will be dished out and that's not our responsibility.
While it was pretty bleak in the dressing room afterwards, I remember thinking after about 70 minutes when we were still one point down, that we were going to win it. It was the first time in a good while where we were losing a game at that stage and I still had the utmost confidence that we were going to win, but the bit of magic we needed didn't happen for us.
We had the try from Bomber [Andrew Conway] but it was disallowed, but for that brief second I thought we were back in complete control. We knew how hard it would be to win over there after last year's game, so to come that close is really annoying. The opportunities were there but we just didn't take them and that's something we have to take on board, learn from and move on.
It was pretty late in getting back home after the game and I didn't get to bed until about two in the morning. I was pretty wiped after the game and the travel, so my alarm clock was not a welcome sound - I had to be up in camp by 12 the following morning. It was straight up, out the door and up the M7 to Carton House.
International Rugby Newsletter
It's always a huge buzz going up to be involved with Ireland and this was no different - it was a great camp. We had one light training session and a walk-through on the Sunday, but the camp was more to do with planning and preparation for the upcoming Six Nations and laying out a few things regarding the World Cup.
Joe didn't want us bogged down with too much detail and it was all about getting everybody back together and scrubbing up on a few things after a great November.
It really is a very exciting time to be involved with Ireland and I'm delighted to be able to experience it, but for all of us it's nice to have that clarity about what's expected for the next nine or ten months. Everyone that was there is hoping to be involved all the way to the World Cup and beyond, but unfortunately we know that not everyone will be lucky enough to make the cut. We'll all be doing our best to be there and to be ready if called upon.
While it's been a busy few months, there is no let-up in the intensity over Christmas either, with Ulster, Leinster and Connacht to come, but the one saving grace is that we don't have a game on St Stephen's Day this year. They are three huge games for us and we'll be well tested by the time Europe rolls around again.
We play Ulster tonight and then Leinster on Saturday next so all going well I'll head home for a couple of days and spend Christmas with the family in between. I think it's my first Christmas at home in four years and as a professional rugby player it's a rare treat to be able to spend a bit of time with your loved ones because we miss out on so many events.
A different thing about home is that the pubs will be open on Christmas Day, but I can't see myself spending the day there. I'll keep my head down, play a few board games and keep the body healthy for the Leinster game. The squad has their annual Christmas gathering also where we'll get the chance to relax together, but we'll be out training again on Christmas Eve, and we'll have another training session on Stephen's Day too.
As a former Ulster player, this game is always a special game for me. I'm sure I won't get the warmest reception up there but I can't wait for it. As a squad, we're looking forward to a huge battle, and after the loss up there last season on New Year's Day, we know how tough it will be.
They look good at the moment and after a couple of good results in Europe they'll be high on confidence. Those two bonus-point wins over Scarlets were very impressive. The chat from the Ulster boys in Ireland camp is that they are really fond of working with Dan McFarland and he's doing great things up there.
But it's an exciting time to play them for us as well and we feel that we're on an upward curve. As always, any away win would be special and we'll be doing our best to pick one up.