Ian Costello: Early season review gets us ready to hit next level
After such a long run of games, we felt it was important for the players to take a week off. So two weeks ago, apart from the guys who had injuries or had little game time under their belts, we switched off completely. It was a well-earned rest for most of the lads, while some returned to their clubs and got some action in the AIL.
But last week we were all back and we did three heavy days training, on the pitch and in the gym, something we don't normally get the chance to do during the season.
It was general training, rather than preparing for a specific game. We picked a few areas we felt we could improve on and focused in on them.
This week, it has been all about preparing for Cardiff, a massive game for us tomorrow night.
The break was a great opportunity to reflect on where our game is at. All the coaches and analysts carried out an extensive review of the season to date, especially of our previous five games – the two Heineken Cup clashes and the three most recent Pro12 encounters.
Following this review process, we have identified certain strengths from the first nine games and also aspects that we feel have let us down. We passed on some of this feedback on the stats so, collectively, we could make changes to improve our performances for the next section of the season.
Specifically, we identified handling and passing accuracy as one area where we could be far more effective. We think we could be far better at keeping our opponents under pressure and transferring that into points if our handling improved. So, in training, we have focused on the quality and precision of our handling and, hopefully, that will allow us to maintain possession and pitch position for longer and convert that into points in the games ahead.
The second big thing we identified and worked on was what area of the pitch we play the game in and also our efficiency in how we exit our defensive zones.
We looked at what are the best strategies for us to transfer pressure back on to the opposition. To do that it is vital to get a perfect balance in how we attack space, whether by putting the ball through the hands or by kicking intelligently.
This review process is about striving towards excellence and pushing our standards – but it's far from all being negative. for a start, we are top of the league in the Pro12, which is a change from this time last year when we were struggling to keep in touch with the top four, even though we did play some good rugby.
This year we are a bit more effective and efficient in our game.
Glasgow is the perfect example. We didn't have a lot of ball, but our defence was so impressive and we ground out a result. Perhaps last year we would not have picked up that win, but it's a sign of how the squad is maturing.
This weekend is an opportunity to build on that. We have beaten Leinster, Ospreys and Glasgow, but now it is important that we sustain this momentum and maintain our standards.
because of injuries and international duty, we have around 25 players training with us at the moment, so this block of two games is very important for them. We have targeted eight points from our two back-to-back trips to Wales.
Our preparation this week has been very good. We had a double session on Tuesday and another yesterday and our main focus has been on the Arms Park this weekend.
The work we have put in this week should be of huge benefit to us next week, with the short six-day turnaround and another trip to Wales.
If we win these two games, it sets us up nicely for the Christmas period – not to mention the Heineken Cup before that.
Hopefully, we can get the week off to a flyer tomorrow.