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Mike Ross: Wales a tough nut, but we can do it

THURSDAY Down day today, and after a brief flirtation with the idea of clay pigeon shooting, I eventually decided on the option of a spot of sea fishing.

It was a popular choice, about 11 of us boarding the 40-foot cruising launch, the Vivienne J, ably skippered by John McLachlan of Otago Coastal Tours. The trip out of the bay was smooth sailing, with some stunning scenery on view.

Out on the open ocean proper though, things changed, with two-metre swells and we were all soon feeling its effects.

Our resident photographer, Dan Sheridan of Inpho, was feeling it more than most though, and spent most of his time on the back deck in search of the freshest air, dodging waves splashing over the hull.

We pulled up after about seven miles from the harbour, close to a rocky shore, where we baited our lines with squid and let them sink to the bottom.

We were after blue cod primarily, and whatever else we could land. The seagulls weren't long noticing our presence, and soon two or three of the biggest, most evil looking birds I'd seen in my life were bobbing a few metres off our stern looking for opportunities.

The fish weren't biting too much, there'd been a storm a few days before and the water was still cloudy from stirred up sand which apparently didn't suit the fishing.

However, we still had some successful fishermen, Tony Buckley landing a couple of blue cod, as well as Gordon D'Arcy and Seán O'Brien. Sadly, I'd no success, but I did enjoy proposing the idea of food to Dan, who was distinctly green at this stage.

On the way back John filleted and cooked our catch, supplementing it by rendez-vousing with a trawler on its way back.

It was simply cooked by pan-frying in a little beer batter, and was definitely the freshest we'd ever had.

Dan perked up a little when we got back to the bay, and was soon back snapping away at the local wildlife, including huge albatrosses and seals basking on the rocks.

FRIDAY

Back into training mode today, and we trained at Carisbrook Stadium, aka the famous old "House of Pain".

It's been superseded now by the brand new roofed Forsyth Barr Stadium, colloquially known as "The Glasshouse" and the venue of the match on Sunday, but the pitch was still in great nick.

That's been a common theme no matter where we've been training, the surfaces have been outstanding. It's a huge credit to the NZRU, especially considering it is Spring over here and the pitches are better than they've any right to be after a long winter and a number of games.

Training went well again. We warmed up with some handling and then went into some defensive drills under Les Kiss' watchful eyes.

After that we ran some patterns, then we finished up with set-piece work, lineouts followed by scrums.

The lineout is going well now. All the time we've spent together is paying dividends and there's very little messing around.

After training there was a rush back to the bus. There's a new rule now that the last man on has to roll the dice, and nobody really wants to be that man.

Inevitably, there was one man, Eoin Reddan, who came strolling out late, and the howling mob descended upon him baying for blood.

Reddser must be one of the most positive people I've ever met, and sure enough, he took his punishment with equanimity, rolling a two (aka just pay the regular fine of $20).

SATURDAY

We'd the captain's run today in the new stadium. True to its nickname, it does look like a big glasshouse, and is an impressive piece of engineering.

There's no walls in the corners for some cheap ventilation, something that's welcome as it stops the place getting too stuffy which can sometimes happen in other roofed stadiums like the Millennium in Cardiff.

It'll be nice to play and not have to take the elements into account -- a dry ball and no wind is guaranteed, which means everything is on the menu at lineout time and the goalkickers can just concentrate on their kicking.

The afternoon was pretty quiet, just really relaxed in the team room. We watched the England v Scotland game in the evening. It was a really close game and Scotland were unlucky to lose out in the end.

I really felt for my old Leinster team-mate Nathan Hines at the end, where the emotion was plain on his face.

Hinesy is one of the best second rows I've ever had the privilege to play with, a brutal scrummager and a niggly competitor on the pitch, and a top lad off it. It's a pity his last World Cup finished the way it did.

SUNDAY

Game day today, and I slept in until about 11am, then wandered down and had some breakfast.

It's was late kick off - 8:30pm - and the day seemed to go on forever. After breakfast I stayed in the team room for a bit, then went back to my bedroom and read for a while.

I had lunch at 1pm and then took a two-hour nap, up in time for the team meeting and pre-match meal.

I was starting to feel the pre-match nerves. I knew the Italians were going to come at us in the scrum and that put a lot of responsibility on the front row, and me in particular, as I'd often have to be dealing with both their hooker and their loosehead.

I knew if we could negate their scrum then their gameplan would go out the window, but it's no small task when you consider the players they had at their disposal.

Castrogiovanni has been on several Premiership teams of the year and would make many people's world XV, and in Perugini and Lo Cicero they had a pair of looseheads who'd been through the rigours of the French Top 14.

As it turned out, the scrum went well, winning several penalties.

We did some stats after the game and we reckoned that out of 10 scrums, they only got decent ball from three.

On the flip side we did concede a couple of penalties, and we lost the ball from a scrum when it ricocheted off someone's leg.

There was a hell of a lot of niggle in the game too, and Cian did really well not to go completely off the rails in the face of a lot of provocation.

I sometimes forget he's only 23 and I shudder to think his best days are in front of him! There was a very happy changing room after the game.

A lot of the squad had been around for the last World Cup, and there was a certain element of relief that we'd done ourselves justice this time.

The only sour note was Rory Best's injury, which didn't look too good. After the match we headed back to the hotel, where we had a bit of a singsong courtesy of Damien Varley and his guitar.

Many parents and partners had arrived over and Andrew Trimble's dad weighed in with 'The Irish Rover', much to Trimby's consternation and our delight.

Then Gert Smal took the guitar up, displaying a hitherto unsuspected talent and playing a bit of blues. We weren't going mad by any means, the quarter-final versus Wales being only six days away and I hit the bed around 2am.

Of course, the after-effects of the game kept me awake until around 4, when I eventually drifted off to sleep.

MONDAY

Travel day, and we were up around 9am. Every part of my body was aching, the match had been intensely physical, and I was certainly feeling it today.

I went to the café attached to the hotel, and got a flat white laced with three shots of espresso.

Many of the squad had the same idea, and were getting takeaways for the bus ride to the airport.

We flew into Wellington into a big downpour, the rain hopping off the tarmac.

I checked the weather app on my phone, apparently it's supposed to be like this all week. Nothing we're not used to.

Wellington turned out to be a lovely city despite the rain, all rolling hills and full of cafes and museums and shops.

We checked into the Intercontinental, a big, comfortable hotel near to the waterfront. After we checked in there was some pool recovery, after which I spent a good half hour soaking in the luxuriously hot jacuzzi.

I took a nap when I got back to the room and went out for dinner with the team, and had a little stroll around the streets.

TUESDAY

Woke up this morning still feeling the after-effects of the game on Sunday, creaking out of bed and down to breakfast.

Not unexpected when you think about it, there's been Test matches nearly every week since the beginning of August! Good for the cap tally, but tough on the bodies.

Still though, it's a great position to be in, with a World Cup quarter-final to look forward to.

No weights today, the training staff had been carefully monitoring our loading, and they gave the starting 15 the morning off.

We had a light runout at an indoor venue today, and did some lineouts.

The runout helped loosen me out, and was very welcome.

We know we've a big challenge on Saturday, Wales have been playing very well and were desperately unlucky to lose against South Africa.

Since then they've put an impressive run of victories together and we're going to have to be at the top of our game to make history and become the first Irish side to make a World Cup semi-final.

It's a tough nut, but I'm confident that if we continue in the vein of form that we've been in we can make it happen.