Browne bred for battle
Second row steeled to keep Leinster's charge on track as side braced for tough test in Cardiff
AFTER seven-and-a-half years away, Sunday evening's homecoming was a poignant outing for Leinster second row Damian Browne.
For Galway is the 31-year-old's hometown and Connacht is where he first plied his trade in the professional ranks.
Since his time there, he has enjoyed spells with Northampton Saints and also three seasons over in Brive in the Top 14, but when Leinster came calling last summer the lure of returning home proved too strong to resist.
And he hasn't looked back.
Twelve appearances in and Browne is relishing his new surroundings; positive about life with the current league leaders but cautiously optimistic about how the season has fared.
With the province about to start the first of three massive tests which will close off a busy period of 13 sustained physical battles, Browne knows that focus is key at this time of year. "The attitude from week to week is very steady and it never changes," he said ahead of tomorrow evening's clash in Cardiff.
"So while we have been on a decent run of form of late we have high expectations and we want to finish off this block of 13 games on a high. It has been pretty intense going over the last 10 weekends. From our point of view, we're happy to have had a good, unbeaten stretch."
Browne knows that the performance against Connacht was not high enough and he says that "relief" was the predominant emotion in the aftermath of last Sunday's slender 15-13 win.
"It was a tough game. Really physical," he sighed. "By the end of the game we were hanging on and we were relieved to get the win.
"We were in control at half-time and leading 9-3 into the wind was a good effort, but we let our standards slip in the last 20 (minutes). That's an area that we can definitely improve on. But winning in the Sportsground is never easy and it was a good, professional effort by the lads. We'll just have to take it up another notch this weekend."
Given the closely fought nature of games between Leinster and Cardiff in recent years when either side has been without some of their frontline players due to international commitments, Browne knows that the men from the Welsh capital will be coming out all guns blazing ahead of the final two rounds of Pool matches in the Heineken Cup.
"Cardiff have a lot of talent in their side. When we played them earlier in the year they were without a lot of their Welsh internationals who were on international duty that weekend and the scoreline in the RDS that day (52-9) flattered us. When you have a scan across their side they're full of Wales internationals and some All Blacks and they have further strengthened their squad with Gavin Henson. So it will be a huge challenge.
"We're under no illusions that they will be throwing the kitchen sink at us. Like ourselves, they have their Heineken Cup destiny in their own hands, so a number of their guys will be looking to put in a big showing to put their hands up for selection.
"But nobody in our squad is looking past Saturday night's game. The 12-game unbeaten streak that we're on brings about its own pressure because you have to keep on raising the bar to keep that run going.
"We're in a decent position in the PRO12 but we want to consolidate it before the league breaks up for the next month or so and make sure that come the sprint after the Six Nations, we're still in control."
With a smile, Browne admits that January is "his" time of year.
"I enjoy this time of year. The weather and pitch conditions can be a real leveller which makes every game a real battle. You see what you're made of then -- plus it slows all these quick guys down!"
With the recently renovated Cardiff City Stadium set to play host to the Battle of the Blues though, he knows that the torrential underfoot conditions he might crave probably won't come to pass.
"Having been away from Ireland for such a long time, there is still an air of excitement when you travel around to new grounds. The grounds in Wales especially are first class and it's still interesting seeing how you can be changing in the lap of luxury in some places -- and not so glamorous in others.
"Playing in the RDS has been a wonderful experience too, so far. Unfortunately, I've not got to experience playing at the Aviva yet, but maybe in the not-too-distant future that'll change.
"It was nice to go back home and visit friends last weekend and the Sportsground has improved too.
"But even though new facilities are important, not a lot changes. It's still only a pitch and you're still playing 15 v 15."
And when Leinster and Cardiff lock horns again tomorrow night -- and passion meets passion -- it'll be another tough encounter.