Saturday 24 March 2018

I'm back again - and hoping for some luck at last

Another injury, another spell on the sidelines but feeling good ahead of a huge four weeks in blue

Fergus McFadden in action during squad training
Fergus McFadden in action during squad training

Fergus McFadden

The last pool game against Wasps in the Champions Cup feels like months ago now as Leinster swiftly move into this pivotal four-week period in the Guinness Pro12. Watching the games between Montpellier and Toulouse and Bath against Glasgow the following day was certainly not good for my heart rate!

Thankfully results fell our way and we managed to secure a home quarter-final in the Aviva.

The home advantage is priceless in this competition, as we learnt last year away to Toulon. We also topped our pool then, but a failure to pick up a losing bonus point at home against Northampton cost us. This year we were determined not to make the same mistake and thankfully we managed to take something from every game we played.

The result was worth every effort. When the Aviva is a sea of blue and the crowd gets behind you it makes everything easier on those big days and please god that will make the difference for us again.

For now, though, we enter a pivotal block. These upcoming four games in the league will hold a massive bearing on who finishes in the top four.

It also provides opportunities for players to get game time, with the internationals away for seven weeks playing and training for the Six Nations. Last year the squad managed to get 19 points from 20 out of these matches, and if we can match that or go one better this year I have no doubt that we will be there or thereabouts. But it won't be easy.

January was a good month personally as I returned to play following the operation I had on a broken thumb. It was great to be back involved in training on the pitch every day as you are fully immersed in the banter between the lads.

Getting the four games under my belt was important for match fitness and I felt really sharp after the last two European games.

I was then picked to play for the Wolfhounds against the Saxons down in Cork three weeks ago. This game was an opportunity for Joe Schmidt (left) to give some players more game time leading into the Six Nations.

Unfortunately I sustained an injury to my ribs in the first ten minutes and it ruled me out of the first game against Italy.

Ireland managed to get through it with a solid win but it was by no means a polished performance.

It leaves plenty to work and focus on going into a much bigger challenge in France.

From watching the France game against Scotland they look like a more structured team than the one we played in Paris last season. I was very impressed with Vern Cotter's Scotland and I get the feeling they will be the surprise package this year - they were unlucky not to come away with more from that game.

The Wales-England clash in the Milennium Stadium was the best game of the weekend by a stretch. It was incredibly physical and both teams played some nice rugby.

England managed to weather the initial Welsh storm and slowly broke them down through a dominant scrum and more dynamic ball-carrying by the likes of the Vunipolas, James Haskell and Chris Robshaw.

Haskell and Robshaw are a serious partnership in that back-row and get through an incredible amount of work, Robshaw's tackle count of 26 sums that up.

Thankfully after a week of recovery the ribs are feeling much better so I'm looking forward to a good week's training in the lead-up to the Newport Gwent Dragons game on Sunday.

The Dragons have improved a lot this year and their Challenge Cup form has been excellent. They have also brought in some quality players like Lee Byrne, who is unfortunately out injured.

They have not lost too many players through international commitments with Wales so they will be coming to Dublin with a settled squad.

We really need to continue the momentum we had from the last two Champions Cup games.

Hopefully we will have a big crowd in the RDS for the first of our back-to-back home ties.

Irish Independent

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