THE festive schedule is kinder this year but getting the balance right is still vital with three bruising derbies coming up.

This is a busy period but time has been made to venture out across Gwent to visit our community and be thankful for the opportunities that we have had as individuals.

This idea of giving back also helps us to spend time together as a team and do something selfless outside of rugby.

This coupled with having a great evening spending time with all staff involved at Rodney Parade over a Christmas meal has brought the squad closer as a whole and on the path to a better future for the club.

We kick off our clashes against Welsh rivals with a home game against the Scarlets tomorrow, then head to Cardiff Blues on Boxing Day before finishing against the Ospreys at Rodney Parade on the first Saturday in January.

The schedule is still a tough ask for the boys (sadly I'm still on the injured list, more about that later), but it's not quite as brutal as previous years when we've had some really quick turnarounds.

We're going into this weekend in good shape thanks to last weekend's great win against Worcester which means we are top of our European Challenge Cup group going into the final two games, and with a great chance of making the quarter-finals.

That's given us momentum for what should be an exciting game against the Scarlets, who we beat at Judgement Day at the end of last season.

This time of year can be challenging in terms of training and managing bodies is vital, especially given that we don't have as big as squad as some clubs.

It's a delicate balance to get the right amount of training in, as less is more during these bruising times! The ability to able to put in big performances on the field in quick succession is essential.

Learning and getting better can be done off the field too, having the balance with a bit of bone-on-bone on the paddock combined with reviews, previews and analysis.

A lot can be done in a short time, with the emphasis on players doing their homework to ensure that the responsibility is shared equally between players and coaches.

Dean Ryan has educated us about what to look at when doing those extras, helping to ensure that there is plenty of self-learning rather than being spoon-fed.

It seems obvious, but I guess that Dean has brought that experience of managing coaches and players from his time in England with big, successful clubs.

What has also been done well, and this sounds really simple, is prioritising the games, with the intention to peak for weekends, to be fresh and as physically and mentally prepared as possible. We're employed to train well and train hard but first and ultimately we have to perform and win on Friday nights and Saturdays.

I think that perhaps both the common sense approach and a sports science one can offer the best insight into this, as both are being utilised now more than ever to get the best from this squad.

South Wales Argus:

Now we are preparing for three derbies and the Scarlets, Blues and Ospreys all present very different threats.

We will do our homework but fundamentally we will just stick to what we are good at, building on the good work that was put in against Worcester.

We are building an identity and hopefully our intent to play will lead to plenty of good scoring opportunities in these big games.

It's been a big boost for the squad to have players back to help bolster the squad strength and the return of Cory Hill back is great for the club and for him after being away for so long.

Having competition for places is vital at this time of year, especially when you are able to bring international class into the squad.

Sadly I'm not in the mix for these games but I'm not spending my time getting stuck into the mince pies.

In fact, I'm even giving veganism a go to help recovery (jumping on The Game Changers bandwagon), which I certainly think did benefit initially during the initial few weeks of recovery when exercise was very minimal post-operation.

Having ruptured my bicep in training, I was under the knife in Manchester the following week and then started the frustrating wait to get some form of mobility in the arm, ability to drive and also make a decent, tasty meal which had some form of protein in it!

I have now got the full range of motion back in my arm and I'm pain-free after six weeks of physio and rehab, hoping to be back in the New Year to play a big part in the second half of the season.

It's time to kick on with my recovery and I could barely walk on Tuesday after having my first running session in seven weeks on Monday.

I'm not the biggest fan of being locked away in a gym so it was nice to finally get out some of the fresh, cold air of Ystrad Mynach into the lungs.

There's a few boys in the LTI (long-term injury) crew that have been stuck in the gym far longer than we would have hoped.

As with previous years, there always seems to be some form of epidemic with injuries and unfortunately it's the turn of the leg injuries and sadly Josh Lewis, Nic Cudd and Lennon Greggains have been joined by Jordan Williams.

It seems he's out for a fair bit of the season after going down in the win in Russia and will miss him massively because he is one of our most dangerous attackers and one who would have been great to have in these games.

Scoring tries recently hasn't been a problem and having players like Sam Davies, Adam Warren and Ashton Hewitt on top form, we have the firepower to outscore our fellow regions.

Having a good end to 2019 will be on the minds of all our players and we look forward to seeing everyone at Rodney Parade on Saturday.