While it’s been somewhat of a dream year for Craig Ronaldson, securing a contract with Connacht after impressing in the All-Ireland League with Lansdowne, the same cannot be said for his current team.
Pat Lam’s side have won just once — against Zebre — in the Heineken Cup this campaign, and were on the end of a 43-10 hammering against Edinburgh last week.
And yet the 23-year-old feels they have suffered some bad fortune throughout the season.
“I think we have been unlucky with injuries,” he says. “But at the same time, we’re trying to focus on ourselves and looking at areas of our game that we want to improve.
“Obviously, last week wasn’t great, but having Toulouse at the weekend really focuses the mind and we’ll be looking for a big step up in pretty much every aspect of our game.
“At times, we’ve been so close to a lot of good teams. A lot of those results could have gone either way and it’s been a bit of a recurring theme to be honest. We’ve let a lot of chances and a lot of results [slip away].
“We’ve been looking at how we can go about fixing that and come out on the right side.”
So what does he feel went so wrong against Edinburgh, when they conceded three tries in the final seven minutes alone?
“It was a tough weekend all round. We let ourselves down in that second half. It was a lot different in the first half. We could’ve been up a few more points. We might not have been chasing the game as much.
“But leading up to a Heineken Cup weekend, it really just emphasises that everyone needs to be on top of their game. We can’t have a few guys just not at the pace and it’ll really show if they are.
“We’ve stepped up the intensity this week in training and things like that and it just needs a big squad effort moving forward.”
For Ronaldson though, it’s been an excellent year, having gone from the relative obscurity of the All-Ireland League to featuring in the Heineken Cup in the space of 12 months.
“I’ve got two Heineken Cup caps already — it’s been great and hopefully I can continue to keep going.
“I was just going in on a clean slate and trying to prove my worth in the squad to start off with. We’ve been learning pretty much every week as we go ahead but mainly the speed of the game and everything that goes with it [is tricky to adjust to].
“I can just put a lot more work into every aspect of my game, so that’s the main thing now. For me, it’s going to be working with the coaches and Dan Parks. Those guys have been a great help and hopefully I can keep improving.”
Primarily an out-half, Ronaldson has been asked to adapt his game and play in the centre on occasion.
“It was a bit of a change now. I haven’t played too much at 12 compared with 10. I enjoyed being thrown in there and learnt a lot and it can only benefit my game going forward playing outside Dan and just being involved in those big games — it’s where you want to be. So I was delighted to get the call.”
On Parks, he adds:
“He’s a great guy and he’s always willing to help out. I’m trying to bounce off him and pick up as many tips as I can.
“I’m just always trying to get in the team as much as I can — so whoever I replace, I’m going to be trying my best.”
The IRFU want the All-Ireland League to remain fully amateur, however Ronaldson is hopeful it can at least retain an element of professionalism in order to keep producing players good enough to reach the next level.
“In Lansdowne, we tried to have as professional a set-up as we could with the coaching and with the facilities.
“Then, the guys we had playing were coming in from all over the place. So the professionalism needs to stay high to make that step up.”
As for Toulouse at the weekend, Ronaldson is adamant his side have a chance, despite most critics writing off any hope of a victory for the Irish side.
“We’re obviously going to be underdogs against Toulouse and going back into the Heineken Cup, it’s a break from the Rabo. We’re hoping to ramp up the intensity and give it our best shot.
“There’s belief there. We’ve looked at our game and asked how we can improve ourselves. We think we can go and cause an upset and give the performance that the supporters deserve.”