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Refreshed ahead of a crucial set of games

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JJ Hanrahan shows his agility during Munster training ahead of tonight's game against Dragons

JJ Hanrahan shows his agility during Munster training ahead of tonight's game against Dragons

SPORTSFILE

JJ Hanrahan shows his agility during Munster training ahead of tonight's game against Dragons

With seven consecutive game weeks until the turn of the year it promises to be a busy and critical period. If we can get this block of games off to a winning start away to the Dragons tonight it would be a huge step forward.

In many ways the next few games are very like the first part of the season - it will be full on and non-stop for the next few weeks so it was good that the lads took some time away from the club during the break to recharge the batteries and refocus the minds.

We changed it up a little from previous years and we trained the week immediately after our win in Cardiff. We did a pre-season block that we would have normally done during the summer, and the boys trained hard for those few days.

Those that were involved logged some very good groundwork that will set them up nicely for the next few months, and then a number of the lads went on to play with their clubs over the two weekends, getting some valuable game-time in, given what is in front of us.

But guys got a break away from the game also, which I think is very important. You just need the chance to switch the rugby brain off for a few days.

Refresh

It's good to refresh things and give a different stimulus in training, and then to get everyone away from the place for a few days is no harm. Hopefully we will see the benefit out of that this weekend.

For some other members of the squad there was no let-up, though. The 11 lads representing us up in international camp had a pretty busy couple of weeks, and I was delighted to see all of them impress in the green shirt.

When you look at the South Africa game and you see the performances of Paul O'Connell, Peter O'Mahony, Conor Murray and Simon Zebo, it gives everyone a great lift. And then for the rest of the lads to back it up last weekend with their performance against Georgia was another huge boost.

I know Dave Foley got the man-of-the-match award against Georgia, but it could have just as easily gone to Tommy O'Donnell - they were both superb.

I thought Felix Jones at 15 was very good as well and it was great to see himself and Dave Kilcoyne both score their first Ireland points. It was good to see Robin Copeland make an impact on his debut, while Ian Keatley and Simon also impressed out there as well.

Seeing that volume of players from Munster hitting their targets while representing their country is a huge thing for all of us here. Hopefully that can continue on in to tomorrow's game with the Aussies.

On the home front all of our focus this week has been on preparing for tonight's trip to Rodney Parade against the Dragons, and their recent form hasn't gone unnoticed.

While all of the Irish teams have not had a game in the last three weeks, Dragons have managed to find some great form in the LV Cup, and they performed really well over that period as well.

They played Harlequins away and they were unlucky to get beaten in London by ten points despite playing well. But they really turned that result around last week and at one stage against Ospreys they were 48 points up, which is some achievement against them.

Also the manner in which they finished off the game to win was impressive, they are in a good place.

We all know that Rodney Parade is a tough venue to go to and play. We expect a tough atmosphere down there in Newport and we have massive respect for where they are in terms of their playing squad. They are a very good outfit and we'll need to be on form to win.

I must say, I was pretty happy with how we were going before the lay-off. We picked up some good wins in Europe and against Leinster to gain some momentum, and I was delighted with a Pro12 victory on our last trip to Wales against Cardiff Blues. It's really important to have the know-how to win games away from home.

But we face another similar test tonight in Newport. We have been boosted by the return of Dave O'Callaghan, Martin Kelly and Niall Scannell from injury recently, while lads like Damien Varley, Mike Sherry, Donnacha Ryan and Keith Earls are all making good progress in their rehab.

We are going to need shifts from these lads before the end of the season if we are to kick on again.

Irish Independent