Thursday 8 December 2016

Victory so sweet after bruising tie at Ospreys

Ian Costello

Published 18/09/2015 | 02:30

Stephen Fitzgerald worked really hard in the back-field and added a lot with his kicking game
Stephen Fitzgerald worked really hard in the back-field and added a lot with his kicking game

I don't know how obvious it was for people watching the Ospreys game on television at the weekend, but it was a very physical and high-paced game. To come away with the points was hugely satisfying.

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The physicality and pace was a huge jump for the players in comparison to any games played so far this season. Lads that played last weekend against Treviso noticed a significant increase in intensity.

For the first 25 minutes we had very little possession so we had to absorb a lot of pressure defensively. But at the end of that period it was still 3-3 and we nearly scored a try, straight from the training ground, with Cathal Sheridan's reverse kick to Stephen Fitzgerald.

After that phase of the game we made two distinct changes: don't overplay in our own half; and keep possession of the ball for longer periods. Field position is vital especially away from home when the crowd has an influence, and decisions can go against you. We wanted to make sure they didn't give them any soft kickable penalties.

Coming away from the Liberty Stadium the players deserve a lot of credit for being so physically and mentally well-conditioned. A team's physical capacity is very important, but of equal importance is a team's mental capacity, being able to push through the barrier when you think the tank is empty.

There was a point there around 60-65 minutes when the game almost came to a standstill such was the pace. At those points in games it becomes a mental battle, who has the greatest will to win? I thought that was the difference between us and them on the day.

Throughout pre-season you prepare for times like that in a game when players have hit their physical limit and it becomes a mental test. Players trained under fatigue repeatedly in the last ten weeks so that in games like this you can execute skills under pressure and dig deepest to win all the small battles. Our S&C department are top-class and Sunday was a reflection of how well prepared the players were.

We were very pleased with the integrity of our defensive structures and systems under pressure and there was a real attacking focus to our defence. We forced a lot of turnovers which was really pleasing.

POSITIVES

There were plenty of positives in relation to our attack but the last five minutes was the stand-out. It was such a strong period of sustained attack, going over ten phases in two passages of play. We created so much momentum that Ospreys had to concede a penalty, which we were able to capitalise on.

Last weekend we had four more players making their first starts for us and they all performed admirably. Stephen Fitzgerald is promising young player; he worked really hard in the back-field; defended the crossfield kick very well; scored from another crossfield; and added a lot with his kicking game, which you need against the Ospreys. He had a very impressive debut, and with plenty to work on the future is exciting.

For Mark Chisholm to go 80 minutes after only training with us for two weeks was very impressive. He made a massive contribution. His experience and leadership really showed and he certainly played his part.

Francis Saili has had an interrupted preparation because of his injury, but he made a huge contribution. He is one of our key attack organisers on the pitch: he adds so much to our game. He also made a big defensive contribution and got us on the front foot.

Tyler Bleyendaal was very composed and managed the game well. He balanced the game nicely, played territory well and showed great vision. When he came off he had emptied the tank, but to have Ian Keatley to come on and close out the game was excellent. Our bench all made an impact.

We have a few days off this week, which is a strange one at this time of the year, but we are all cognisant of the 16-week block of games that's just around the corner. There will be no chance to switch off for those few months so players need to recuperate now and get themselves primed again.

We have a big week again next week which will give us a good run into the Glasgow game. We are happy with our two wins but will be a lot more satisfied if we make it three from three against Glasgow.

Irish Independent

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