The entire season ahead could be defined by our next four matches
IT was a disappointing end to our 10 days in Italy to lose to Treviso. It was a real shame, especially with the week's training we had put in leading up to the game. We had worked extremely hard, we had picked up the win against Zebre with a great second-half performance and we thought we were in a great place going into the Treviso game.
Looking back on the game, it is really frustrating for us, especially with the fact that our scrum and maul were dominant. They were things we had really worked hard on in preparation for that game.
We thought we were in the right place for the challenge, but a combination of our own mistakes and their performance at the breakdown cost us dearly. Then to have four yellow cards and to lose by that margin, we have no one to blame but ourselves.
It's the first time I've ever seen four men sent to the sin bin in one game. I've had a good look at the video and it is fair to say that two of the yellow cards were fully deserved and another two were questionable.
But if the referee thinks they were merited, then they were. He is an experienced ref so we can have no complaints. We have to take it on the chin and move on, there is nothing that we can do to change it.
Right now, we have to recover from that setback. I didn't look at the penalty count, but if we had four lads sin-binned it can't have looked too good. We have to have our discipline right for this week.
After the journey home, I got back in late on Saturday evening. It must have been nearly 10.0 by the time I arrived, but there was very little time to sit there feeling sorry for myself as I had Irish camp in the next morning.
I got my Irish gear sorted before bed and I was on the road again on Sunday morning at 10-ish, to be in Carton House for 1.0. This was the first real training camp we've had and Sunday, Monday and Tuesday were a brilliant experience as always.
With Joe Schmidt not long in the coaching role, it is great to hear his views on what to expect for the year ahead.
Speaking with the other guys in camp, you'd have to be hugely impressed with the way he goes about training. We got a lot of clarity and direction on how we'll be playing going forward. We have been told that every place is up for grabs, which meant three pretty sharp and intense training sessions over the few days. But still there was no slogging required, it was all short, sharp and focused, which is great for players.
There was more than 40 of us in camp this week, which meant everyone was on their toes. There were around 10 or 12 Munster lads there, which is a good sign that we are going fairly well. This time last year was my first call-up to the big camp and then I went on to get my first cap during the November Series, so it is brilliant to be involved from the start of the season again this year.
But we all know that we have to do the business for our provinces in the Pro12 and Heineken Cup if we are going to get the call-up for the next camp, which will lead us into the games. There is no resting on your laurels, especially with the next camp being cut down to 32 players for the series.
Looking ahead to tomorrow's game, Dragons have been in excellent form so far this year. The way they went about their business last week to beat Scarlets in the Welsh derby must have been a massive boost for them and they were definitely impressive. With two wins under their belt, they are going to be on a serious high, so we know we are facing another massive test in Musgrave Park.
We had a good look at their scrum and their front-rows on Tuesday and they look to be a well-disciplined outfit. Any side that can beat Ulster as well as Scarlets need to be given massive respect.
To date in the Pro12, we have scored plenty of tries, but we have managed to concede a good few as well along the way. From our point of view, all we want from this week's game is to get our own house in order. It's great to be scoring plenty of tries, but we really don't want to let too many in at the other end either.
We will need to have all of our detail right for tomorrow. Our discipline and our defence are both going to be huge in this game, but it is vital that we work our set-piece well again. If we can be accurate in those areas, I think we'll be good.
This really is the first of a group of four big games for us. Next week we have Leinster in Thomond Park – which everyone looks forward to – and then we have the two Heineken Cup matches after that. It is a big couple of weeks of rugby ahead of us.
It is nice to deal with the season in blocks of games and this is a very important block of four for us. In many ways, your season could be defined by how well you do in the next three weeks.
But still it is important for us not to look beyond Saturday either. With the loss to Treviso fresh in our minds, the last think we want is another defeat going into a vital part of the season.
But I think if we execute our game plan correctly, there is no reason why we shouldn't win tomorrow.