Ospreys skipper Ryan Jones has told his team-mates that the next month will define their entire season.
Jones was among the players reporting back to duty at the region's Llandarcy HQ this week following Six Nations duty, and he says that it is important that the players realise that they need to hit the ground running now they are back in Ospreys colours if they are to avoid disappointment later in the season.
"We've got a massive month or so ahead of us" said the back rower.
"When you look at the fixture list over this period, the size of the task we face is clear. We've got back-to-back Welsh derbies that are bound to be physical and intense battles, then we go straight into a massive game against Biarritz in the Heineken Cup, followed by three tough games away against Irish sides in under two weeks. That's a a difficult schedule by anyone's standards, and we realise that we need to be on top form right the way through this period if we are going to achieve what we want to. It will define our entire season, whether it is a success or not."
Newport Gwent Dragons provide the opposition at Rodney Parade on Saturday evening (KO 6.30pm) before the Ospreys welcome the Scarlets to the Liberty Stadium the following Friday (KO 7.05pm), and while supporters may already have one eye on the glamour Heineken Cup quarter-final clash with Biarritz in San Sebastian, Jones insists that the Ospreys need to stay completely focussed on the domestic challenge before they even think about Europe. He added:
"We've got a lot of work to do before we start to contemplate the Heineken Cup game. We've got ambitions of reaching the Magners League play-offs, and we're currently outside of the top four so we wouldn't even qualify if the season was to end now. It's really tight at the top of the table, and if the Dragons were to beat us on Saturday night it would be even tighter. It's great as a group of international players to be coming back into our 'own' environment, this is where we spend most of time in work and there's a great atmosphere and spirit here. What we have to do know is make sure that we are focussed properly on the job in hand over the next couple of weeks, get our performances right for these next couple of games and everything else should take care of itself before we turn our attention to the second phase of this busy period, starting with Biarritz before a very difficult set of games in Ireland. We can't think too far ahead at the moment, we can't allow ourselves to get distracted. We have to do it one game at a time.
"This is why we have such a large squad here; the competition is getting tougher each year and to be able to compete on all fronts you need strength in depth to get you through these tough run-ins. Over the last two seasons we have got ourselves into the Heineken Cup last eight and let ourselves down at that important stage. We want to change that this year, we want to show that we've learned from our experiences and mistakes, and to do that, we've got to start getting it right from now."
With a busy summer of international rugby on the horizon, as Wales face challenging test matches against South Africa and New Zealand, Jones insists that places in the national squad will be won and lost over the next few weeks:
"This is our bread and butter" he said.
"International places are won and lost by what you do at your region, so there's a lot to play for, as individuals as well as a team. What's gone before now is forgotten, it's a clean slate for everyone to start again, so I'm sure there will be players looking to put their hand up with the Ospreys between now and the end of the season. It's an exciting time for everyone. We need to make the next step in Europe, it's important that our Welsh players get the experience of playing in the latter stages of competitions so that they are battle hardened for test match rugby."