Ten-day Italy trip will be no jolly in the sun – the lads are on a mission
I've been sitting in the stands for the first two Munster games of the season, so to get the chance to run out again last weekend against Edinburgh was a great feeling.
I ended up getting about 20 minutes, but even to be a real part of the match-day experience again made me feel fully part of it all. It was a great feeling to put on the Munster jersey again.
Surprisingly enough, I didn't hit the wall at all during my brief appearance. I expected to feel the pinch at some stage having not had any game time yet, but I felt fresh as a daisy, which is a real bonus. That seems to have been the message from everyone so far this season. All the lads have felt in great nick on the pitch, so every credit must go to the strength and conditioning guys.
We focused a lot on designing our training to suit match-day situations in pre-season, and all that hard work seems to have paid off for us.
By the time I got on, the lads had already done a great job in wrapping up the bonus-point win – scoring so soon after Edinburgh did in the second half really secured it for us.
After I got on, we had two or three scrums and they seemed to go okay. It is hard to judge the new system of calling on that brief experience, but the early indications are that the changes are positive. But I'd still like to hold off on nailing my colours to the mast just yet; let's see how they stand up to the dirty winter nights when the ground gets sticky and wet.
At this stage, all eyes have turned to Zebre and Treviso and our 10-day training camp that is planned around those two away trips. It has worked out nicely for us – a week training in the heat is just what we need to iron out a few things in our game, just at a time when it is getting chilly at home.
It might sound like a dream to be heading off to spend the next while on the shores of Lake Garda, sunning ourselves, but it will be far from a jolly to the sun.
We have to treat this like a business trip. There are two games to be won and we all remember what happened to us last year away to Treviso. It is vital that we don't get distracted from the job in hand.
I'm sure we'll be given the opportunity to enjoy ourselves too, though. Maybe if we manage to get the two wins in the bag, we'll be given the thumbs up. But if we don't, no one will be in the humour to have a night out anyway.
The itinerary for the trip has not been given to us yet, but we have appointed Damien Varley as the chairman of the social committee.
It is always interesting when Damien gets control of these things. There is sure to be plenty of fancy cups of coffee and some fine dining. We like to compare him to Louis Litt from the TV show 'Suits'. Damien is a bit fond of himself too. If he has a say in it we should expect to make a trip to the opera or something. Lake Garda is right up Varls' street by the sounds of things.
One thing is for sure, we'll all have the passport ready for this trip. There will be no issues about forgetting to bring it with us, nobody wants to be left at home. Last year there was a bit of a rush for one of the away trips when Dougie Howlett left his at home.
He managed to get it to the airport just in time to make the flight, but it's always the last thing that you remember going out the door. Whatever about forgetting to bring your shorts or boots, the fear is to leave the passport behind you.
We had a review of Zebre on Monday and despite losing to Connacht they seem to be an impressive side. They have the 'no win' tag hanging around their neck still and, with us arriving for their first home game of the season, they'll be extra keen to lose that.
Any time you play an Italian side over there it is very difficult to get a win, no matter what their previous form has been. And with us coming off a six-day turnaround and all the travel involved as well, we will have to be wary of slipping up.
Dave Ryan is with them again this year and hopefully he'll be involved this week as he missed out on their trip to Connacht. We had a good battle last year in Thomond Park and in Italy so it'd be great to have a hit-out with him again.
Dave's brother Paddy is involved in training with us. He is a tighthead as well and has recently joined up with Dolphin, and their older brother Timmy played for Munster a few years back. I can imagine what that house was like with three props growing up!
There were a few sorry-looking Cork lads around training on Monday saying that they were robbed in the hurling. It was great to sit back and be able to watch it without getting too excited, but it would have been nice to have Limerick there to cheer on. Clare probably deserved it, but it's hard to know would the Banner or Rebels lads be harder to listen if they won it.
But after Sunday's excitement, our focus is back on our own ball game. A win is the aim for this Zebre game. It would be a great way to start off our Italian camp.