Brian Walsh: Time to atone for below-par performance in Connacht
It turned out to be a disappointing end to our Christmas games with the loss in Connacht. The win against Leinster on St Stephen's Day was a real lift for everyone and it was a shame we couldn't match it with another four points on New Year's Day.
I suppose leaving the Sportsground without a point was the worst possible start to 2015 for all of us, but we have to give great credit to Connacht. They deserved the win on the day for the way they played with and against the wind.
But we still recognise that it wasn't a good enough performance. It was below par for sure and it's something we intend to shake off ahead of tomorrow's game in Italy.
The conditions made it tough for both sides and for a while it looked like we were coping with them very well.
We then let Connacht in for a soft try. They executed the move very well, the chip over the top fell nicely and they ran in a good try. But we should never have let it get that far.
It was probably about a 20-point gale, so to only lead 16-7 at the break was not enough. We needed a big second-half display and we just couldn't work our way into Connacht territory enough.
It was a night where kicking the ball against the wind was almost impossible. Neither team put boot to ball that often playing into the teeth of the conditions. And when they did, more often than not, it was a bit of a lottery.
Before the game we saw the ground staff taking down the advertising hoardings around the ground, so that will tell you how bad the weather conditions were.
But the weather is no excuse at all. We made a few unforced errors, especially in the second half. We were not overly pleased by that as a team, particularly coming off the win over Leinster. We were looking for a consistency of performance but we didn't get it.
A win would have put us top of the table, but at the same time all four of the top sides lost and failed to pick up bonus points, which is a bit uncanny. Thankfully, that loss hasn't altered our place in the table badly.
We weren't particularly happy with the performance, and we hope to get back to winning ways this weekend against Zebre.
The one good thing about having the game on New Year's Day was that we have had a nine-day turnaround. With a journey to Italy and a couple of six-day turnarounds over the Christmas period, that is welcome.
It gave us the chance to dissect the loss, rest up and prepare for a challenging few weeks.
While the players didn't come back as a group until Monday, the coaching staff worked on Sunday. We had the development squad in for a full day's training and we met up with the full squad on Monday as usual. Since then all the focus has been on beating Zebre.
From the outside, people might think that playing the league's bottom team is the perfect way to get over a tough defeat. But we have to be well aware that they are very capable of upsetting teams on their own patch.
Already this year Ulster found that out to their detriment, Ospreys escaped with a one-point win and Edinburgh also left Parma empty-handed. It's a very tough place to get a result.
There are also plenty of complexities involved in the weekend from the travel, flight times, a pretty long coach transfer and then the physical contest that awaits. But the lads are used to it now, they have almost all made the trip before.
Our trip started yesterday afternoon after training in UL, when we went as far as Dublin Airport. We are due to fly out of there this morning on a 7am flight to Milan before hopping on the coach. It's a long haul, but the lads are well used to passing time in departure lounges at this stage.
We will name the team this afternoon and the plan is that we will be in a position to bring a few of the injured lads back into the 23. We have been assessing the progress of Keith Earls, Conor Murray and James Cronin all week, so hopefully they will be ready.
It's a huge game. A win is vital for us to stay in touch with the teams around us, so hopefully we can produce a display to take the points.