Rory Scannell: 'The week off was welcome but we want to ramp it up again in Italy'
While the couple of weeks without a game was welcome from a recuperation point of view, I think we're all pretty happy to be back in action this Sunday with a road trip to Italy to face Zebre.
Parma is one of the best away trips of the season, although it is a tricky enough place to get to, but if we're heading home on Sunday night with another win in the bag we'll be well happy.
I'm not sure if we'll see any winter sun this weekend, but we certainly can't complain after our recent trip to South Africa. It was well into the mid-20s while we were there for the week and after an exciting game we took a win that I think we deserved.
All in all, it was a great trip and a great experience, especially for the young guys that were in the group for the first time. We were based in Johannesburg for the week and then we flew up to Bloemfontein the day before the game. It turned out to be a fairly regular week's training and we had our usual schedule out there, other than a couple of small alterations because of the travel involved.
On these kind of long away trips I always feel fortunate that I'm able to get some shut-eye on the plane. Some lads can't and it drives them crazy, but it makes it all the easier when you can buckle up and nod off. We went via Dubai and it was basically two eight-hour flights but we had a day off when we arrived and we were all pretty refreshed for training.
Having our base in Johannesburg in the Highveld area meant we were well used to the altitude of the match venue in Bloemfontein. Some of the boys would not have experienced that before so it was all a vital part of the preparation.
We stayed in a resort and it had a bit of everything there for us. There was a cinema, lots of restaurants and a casino, so we were kept fairly busy for the week. We went out for a few meals together as a squad and that's always a bit of craic. On those kind of tours there's an awful lot of down-time and if you don't fill those hours it can get pretty boring and monotonous.
I'm always looking for a new TV series to watch to burn away the hours in the evening times but during the day I'm a big coffee drinker, so I usually try find my way around the local coffee shops wherever we are. In towns like Johannesburg and Parma you're never disappointed.
We've been going flat out since pre-season so after we signed off with a win over Cheetahs, I think everybody was happy enough to switch off for a week. Playing that many games can take its toll on your body and you need that few days to refresh.
A week with no collective training rests the body and brain and with us going straight into another tough block of games that week off was most welcome.
For the most part I just put my feet up for the week, and I decided not to head up to Dublin for either of the international games. We had training last Saturday anyway which would have meant a big rush up the road to see the game, but it still made for brilliant viewing from the couch.
It was a great performance and the lads were really up for it. Ireland took their opportunities and the defensive effort throughout was outstanding. It's 23 games since New Zealand didn't score a try and that was against the Lions, so that tells you something about the achievement.
Last Friday was our first day back training and it was a great session. It never really takes too long to get back into the swing of things after a short break and everyone has a tale about what they've been up to for the few days. But we went straight in for some strength and conditioning work before we worked through some skills. Saturday was the first session that we took a look at what we might do against Zebre this weekend.
One of the highlights of this week has been the number of lads that have made their return to full training. Tyler made it back for the Cheetahs game, and then this week we had Chris Farrell, Conor Murray, Conor Oliver, Ronan O'Mahony and Calvin Nash all back from the return to play group.
Chris has had a tough time of it after his knee injury. It's been a long nine or ten months for him it's great to have him in the mix now too ahead of this European block and the inter-pro games that are just coming up.
First up is Zebre and under Michael Bradley they have definitely improved. Games in Italy are always really tough - but they have always been tricky no matter how hard things have been going for Zebre and Treviso.
So tomorrow we'll be back to passport controls, security and airport entertainment. We're off up to Dublin in the morning and we fly over the evening before the game. We have struggled over there a few times but we came away with a few good results there too. For sure the heads have to be screwed on for this one.
With the game being on Sunday it's always a bit strange. Then add into the mix the fact that we have a quick turnaround before we face Edinburgh in Cork next Friday night. That will be a tough task for sure with all the mileage involved, but at the moment our squad is chomping at the bit.
We have guys coming back to fitness, guys waiting for their chance and soon we'll have our internationals back too. I know everybody wants to take this opportunity.
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