Sunday 30 April 2017

We are a better team than in 2015, warns determined O'Donnell

Munster's Tommy O’Donnell speaking during a press conference at the University of Limerick. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Munster's Tommy O’Donnell speaking during a press conference at the University of Limerick. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

There is a video doing the rounds online of the entire Saracens squad celebrating as six of the club's players were announced in the Lions squad.

It depicted a united squad that looked totally at ease three days out from their Champions Cup semi-final, but while they were back-slapping and high-fiving, their opponents on Saturday were being put through their paces in what was their toughest training session of the week.

The message coming from Munster has been clear: the Lions squad announcement was not going to distract them.

Training began at 12pm as normal and while the word filtered through that Conor Murray, Peter O'Mahony and CJ Stander would be on the plane to New Zealand, it was straight back down to business. Two different approaches, but Munster's typified their attitude in the biggest week of their season.

With two of Munster's three first-choice back-rows included in the Lions squad, Tommy O'Donnell will be in esteemed company on Saturday, but it is nevertheless a stage that he feels he belongs on.

Consistent

The Tipperary native has fallen out of favour with Joe Schmidt and hasn't played for Ireland since March of last year, but he remains one of Munster's most consistent performers.

If O'Donnell feels like he has a point to prove, then the Aviva is the ideal stage to do so.

Read more: Saracens could be at full strength for Munster showdown after Mako Vunipola recovers from knee injury

With at least eight Lions set to start, six of whom are in the pack, the bruising battle up front will be crucial.

"They have it all," O'Donnell says of the Sarries back-row.

"They have a line-out operator as a six. They have a groundhog, ball-carrying seven and an incredibly talented ball-carrying No 8. They are a quality side with a very balanced back-row, two very good second-rows and very, very mobile props and hooker."

For all of the threats that Saracens pose, Munster are in a good place and except for the doubts hanging over Conor Murray's fitness, the province will go in to the game full of confidence.

It is only two years since Munster beat Saracens in Thomond Park before being crushed three months later at Allianz Park. The landscape might be different, but plenty of the same faces will be on show, including O'Donnell, who insists that Munster have learned plenty of lessons since then.

"We're definitely playing better than we were in 2015. We've more confidence in ourselves, we've more confidence in our defence and in our set-piece and that's what you need, to be confident heading in against Saracens."

Irish Independent

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