All the work done behind scenes will be key for tough knockout test
The aim for tomorrow is that it's not our last game of the season. We want to be involved in knockout rugby all the way, and at the same time I don't think anyone is underestimating the challenge we face at Thomond Park.
Benetton Rugby are a quality side and they come to Limerick having lost just one of their last seven away games. The old cliché that Italian teams don't play too well on the road is a bit irrelevant now. These guys are here to win.
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We saw how good they are over there when we played them without many of our first team. Because I played that day I know that we were unbelievable, one of our best performances this season, but still they were only one or two per cent off us. We got the bounce of the ball and everything went for us against Benetton. There was still nowhere to hide over there and come tomorrow, we know it will be the same.
Coming into last weekend we were expecting Glasgow to beat Edinburgh at home - they are so hard to turn over in Scotstoun. Connacht didn't have that much to play for, but in the first five minutes, even if there is nothing on the line it's still an interpro. From the word go both teams were in each other's faces, there was no love lost, that's for sure. That's what you come to know and expect when you play the neighbours.
In the first 20 minutes we found it hard to get into the game and Connacht turned up really well. We always knew they were going to, but they were unbelievable for that first quarter. They had us under the pump in a lot of areas. In the second 20 minutes we kicked on though and from there we were able to wrestle back control of the game.
From personal experience, I know it's a pain in the backside facing our defensive lineout in training and it was excellent last weekend with five turnovers. But it's the work that Billy Holland and Jerry Flannery do in preparation that lays the foundation. The lifting ability of guys like Killer, Archer, JK, Arno and CJ lifting our jumpers in the right position is massive and the boys in the air did the business too.
If you remember, we had a really important lineout against Exeter when Billy got up at the tail. The big thing there was John Ryan's lift. He threw him right out of his hands and Billy just caught it. If Exeter won that lineout, they'd have scored a try and our season would be so different. It's moments like that, where the work from Monday to Friday, week in, week out, finally pays off. We knew that first lineout was coming from Connacht. The boys had done their analysis and predicted it and we ran it in training. We executed it brilliantly on the field, but the hours of work that went into it was the key.
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It was definitely a tough day for Andrew Conway with his mistake, but we made sure he could forget about it with a presentation in the gym on Monday. He was given a nice turkey hat to wear and was crowned 'Turkey of the Week' for his gaffe. Andrew got up in front of the group on Monday but what can you do now? It's hard to apologise for something like that, but it happens. The important thing is he didn't dwell on it and he played really well for the rest of the game. Thankfully, it didn't cost us.
We got the win we wanted in the end but it wasn't enough. The Scarlets loss comes to mind, but you can't look back with regret. We're in the quarter-final and we have an opportunity to kick on again tomorrow so all focus is on the future.
Facing Benetton so recently is a big help to our preparation. They went ten points up over there against us, but we learned a lot from those first few minutes. We kept kicking the ball infield to their big counter-attacking runners, who loved the chance to run at us in a broken field. Once we sorted that out it was a big help.
Despite so much going against them in that game, they still put 28 points on us. Their pack loves having the ball in front of them and they try to play catch, carry and offload rugby. If they're allowed to play that loose game they'll eat up the metres all day and all of a sudden you find yourself defending your try-line.
But if we keep them on the back foot we can cover their kick option a lot better than their running game. The big learning that day was that we didn't kick the ball dead enough and we let them get their confidence going early.
In all rugby, the game is never won before the hooter and with it being a knockout game it is so important that we play from start to finish. When Benetton played Leinster they pulled a draw out of the bag with the clock in the red, so we have to be prepared to go all the way with them.
While we'd be quite happy with a low-scoring win, we know they can score tries at any time from anywhere. We have to take the game to them, bring the ball on the front foot and make sure not to give them unstructured field in front of them.
Our defence, lineout and scrum systems have to operate smoothly. We have to contain them and knock them back. As a general rule, rugby is all about going forward, so that's the first goal against a team like Benetton. If we can deny them yards we can patch the holes where we're a bit thin.
Against Connacht, our detail was good and that helped us to get the win, but we have to step up again for knockout rugby. Hopefully we can work together and have some silverware to celebrate in four weeks' time.