Monday 18 December 2017

Luke Fitzgerald: Out of the frying pan and into the fire

Aviva win was a big relief -- but another huge challenge awaits

Relief is the first word that comes to mind after last weekend's clash with our great rivals Munster. There was almost a collective sigh of relief when we got back into the changing room after the game.

There had been so much at stake and so much pressure on the squad after a run of bad performances, mostly from ourselves as we have very high standards as a squad, and we simply had not been performing to the best of our abilities.

What really added to the pressure was the occasion, and that made it all the sweeter when we won, in front of 40,000 of our own supporters and to get a result for them and for the club was fantastic, especially against such a quality side and the form team so far in the league.

I can't go any further without mentioning the stadium as well. It was great to be part of the first match at the stadium and it really lived up to the hype about it.

From the changing rooms (which are outstanding) to the highest row in the stands it was an amazing atmosphere and a great occasion, a real pleasure to be a part of.

And now to matters off the pitch and the sad news of Moss Keane's death on Tuesday.

An inspirational figure on and off the pitch and a close family friend, my own dealings with him are sparse enough but my abiding memory will be of his visit to me during my injury last year. That he took the trouble to come out to see me speaks volumes about the quality of the man.

My spirits were immediately lifted as he proceeded to tear my father apart at the table with no mercy using that famous wit of his. And his positive mental approach, despite being terminally ill at the time, really helped put things in perspective and helped me stay positive throughout my injury.

The last thing I will say about Moss, and it really says it all, is that even though he was seriously ill at the time, all he wanted to talk about was my injury and how I was doing. That really sums Mossy up as a man, always putting others first.

On a lighter note, it's been a stressful week wearing my 'number 1s' to and from training everyday (I can sense the lack of sympathy from all you office folk for my plight, but in our environment it looks absolutely ridiculous) and the lads have got great craic out of my punishment.

Even Joe Schmidt and the management haven't been able to contain themselves. Actually, come to think of it, Joe was the first one out the window slagging me on Monday morning!

On an aside there was another dice roll this week, and it was the one everyone was looking for.

Big Trev Hogan had a bad week after he was late twice. Now this is extremely unusual for one of the most professional guys in the squad and although he proclaimed his innocence on both occasions I personally witnessed and caught him out trying to sneak in the back of the second session he was late for. I just felt it was my duty to let the lads know he was late.

The place erupted with cheers and poor Trev was forced then and there to roll the dice in front of a room full of cheering men. But it was a massive anti-climax, he only had to fill up the soap dispensers in the showers for a month, so he got off easy.


So on to Saturday's opponents -- Racing-Métro 92. They're a star-studded squad and the first test of the Heineken Cup campaign. It's important to get off to a good start and both teams will be under pressure as the group we're in is extremely difficult. Every game and every point will be extremely valuable.

They have a massive forward unit and that will be the area where the game is won and lost, as always. We'll need another performance like our pack gave against Munster on the weekend to stand a chance of being on the right side of the result come Saturday.

There is massive danger behind the scrum as well, and discipline will be paramount as François Steyn can punish any ill-discipline, anywhere, within 60 metres. So yet another huge challenge lies ahead.

I seem to be repeating myself every week here, but no matter what competition you're playing in these days the standard is extremely high and you must perform at your peak to be successful. So the challenge is laid down and it's that simple!

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