10 Dec, 12:23
Ireland's John Lacey will referee his first ever RBS 6 Nations while Alain Rolland is also included in the Elite Panel in what is his last season.
"The Carlow game before Christmas was every bit as physical and hard fought a contest as we had predicted - thankfully for us at the final whistle we found ourselves with a 10-point lead and more importantly another four-try bonus point in the bag.
"It was another big effort from the lads with our defensive play probably winning us the game in the end. There was an immediate excitement amongst the lads in the post-match warm down that if other results had gone our way we had a good chance of being in the top four for the Christmas break which was a goal we had set ourselves at the beginning of the season.
"When Aertel's AIB League pages (normally 212 to 214!) were flicked up on the screen in the clubrooms after the game, we saw ourselves lying third in the table which made the Christmas Party beers taste very nice!
"The Christmas Squad Party kicked off with a Kangaroo Court session in the first team dressing room. After a mild power struggle for the role of judge between two old guards, Messrs Beaker Finucane and Anthony Roundy, we got underway and a jammed courtroom witnessed some severe punishments dished out to those who had committed any misdemeanours in the preceding weeks. Let's just say that I don't think a certain member of the squad (management included!!) will light up a cigarette on the sidelines at a league game again and yellow card recipients will think again too.
"It's important to enjoy these mini successes that can be achieved along the way during a season. In saying that, nobody is getting carried away either. With the experience in our squad we are very much aware that, in a tight division like this, it is easy to find yourselves lingering around the bottom of the table after only a few bad/unlucky results.
"Christmas allowed for more of a mental break than a physical one, with only one night off training. It was business as usual with the coaches deciding to fit in a challenge game against Division One opponents, St. Mary's College, to help keep the match freshness amongst the group.
"Mary's won the game but we were pleased with how well we competed for the 80 minutes and it was also a good opportunity to have a look at some of the players who had performed well at Under-20 and J1 level in the first half of the season and see how they would go at this higher level.
"On a personal note I picked up a groin injury over the Christmas which saw me miss last Saturday's Division Two game against DLSP. It was disappointing for me, as one of my personal goals for the season was to play in every AIB League game. However it's not too severe and I'm confident of being back for the next match at home to Highfield.
"Luckily the back three is an area where we have some depth so the team is in no way weakened by my absence - some would even say strengthened!! At 29 years of age, while not being old, you are beginning to listen to your body a bit more and if it's telling you to rest up for a week you need to do it, or else face paying the price of a having a longer absence further down the road.
"Injuries also require your fullest attention. Through the past seasons you learn that speed of recovery is determined by how well you apply the advice given to you by physios and doctors, etc.
"Last Saturday's encounter against DLSP was a day to forget for us, we were poor in most areas of our game and it was very frustrating for all involved. All credit to DLSP who took advantage of our poor display as they showed impressive attacking capabilities from deep. If we ever needed reminding that no game is won easily in this division we got it last weekend.
"While bemused at our showing on Saturday we have promised ourselves that we would do our best not to allow it happen again.
"So time to re-focus and make adjustments in training to help us prepare for the visit of Highfield to Sutton. The pressure is on and it's back to another make or break situation where we must put on a performance that we know we are capable of. Highfiled, like Suttonians are a club with proud traditions and high ambitions. All of our concentration for the next week is going into getting the best out of ourselves for this game."