Tuesday 27 September 2016

We're heading to Limerick with no fear - we're ready to end hoodoo

Tiernan O’Halloran

Published 27/11/2015 | 02:30

Tiernan O’Halloran is applauded off the pitch by Brive players after Connacht’s Challenge Cup victory last weekend
Tiernan O’Halloran is applauded off the pitch by Brive players after Connacht’s Challenge Cup victory last weekend

We're not getting carried away. It's less than a third of the way through the Pro12 season, and we have never won away to Munster in the professional era. But this season it feels different around here.

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Even just in the changing rooms. There is a good vibe flowing throughout the squad. In training the confidence is there, people are coming out of their shells, and trying things that they might not have tried before.

You can tell people are bouncing at the moment, and that shows at the weekend in the games. Lads are making massive improvements, and are really standing up and getting noticed. All the way from one to 23 - the bench are making a massive contribution.

At times in the past, that didn't happen. At Connacht, you were relying on two or three lads to nearly do everything, and the rest would fill in behind them. Whereas now it is a big squad effort, and that goes for everyone, from the management and the backroom staff, to the guys who perform on the pitch.

We all work off the same page, it just seems to fit right. Things are going well, but at the same time we are not getting ahead of ourselves. There are still plenty of tough games ahead, especially over the Christmas with the inter-pros.

Excuse

We could have used the long journey back from Siberia as an excuse. But we had to man up, and it was on us lads who didn't travel to keep everything ticking over here.

I was one of those - we knew the guys would be tired when they got back, so that drove us to work harder during the week.

We switched off for a couple of minutes against Brive and that was a pity, but overall we were delighted. They are a tough side, and sent a strong squad over. To get nine points from those two European games is massive for us.

It was great to be captain in the Sportsground for the first time too, but now another test lies ahead for us. The inter-pros are something we always look forward to here but at the end of the day, it's just like another team where there are four points up for grabs.

Unfortunately, in the past, Thomond Park has been somewhere that we have struggled. We put in 40 or 60-minute performances, but we haven't gone at them full-tilt for the 80 minutes down there yet.

Munster are a top side and they will punish you if you switch off. But we are going down there with a good game-plan, and we believe that the squad are in a good enough place to win.

It's a top-of-the-table clash on Sky Sports so it's been heralded as a big occasion, but again we have to just focus on our game. It is probably the best place we have been in as a squad going down to Thomond Park, and there is a lot of confidence there.

That was helped by the pre-season game when we beat them in Limerick. But at the same time a pre-season game is a pre-season game. It is a different level when it comes into competition time.

There is no fear on our side, though.

Along with that win we have a young squad, and a lot of lads there aren't used to losing in Thomond Park. And they don't read into the history of it.

That's the plus side of having a good squad with a big academy influence. Lads are not afraid of throwing caution to wind in order to get a massive scalp. We are playing against a quality Munster side, and they are just as hungry for the four points as we are.

All of their internationals have returned at this stage too, and they will be eager to put the World Cup behind them. Munster haven't had a lot of game-time recently, with their match against Stade Francais postponed last weekend, so their players had an extra week to prepare for us.

It is not ideal from our perspective because they will be fresh from that, but then again, we are coming off two good European wins. We are continuing on game to game, so you could say we'll have that momentum.

Munster have a lot of leaders around the park. CJ Stander has been fantastic again this year, he has really been their standout player. That is one key to shutting down their go-forward ball. He is a great ball carrier, and is someone you have to be aware of.

Ian Keatley's kicking game is very strong, and we have to be right on top of our game to stifle that.

Then you look at the back three, with Keith Earls and Simon Zebo and Andrew Conway or Gerhard van den Heever, there is a lot of pace there.

They are very dangerous in attack, so we can't be loose with our kicks. If you are kicking down the throats of Zebo and Earls, they will definitely punish you. They have threats all over the pitch.

But we are more focused on ourselves. We need to nail our jobs and then that will look after itself. We are not denying Munster have a lot of quality players there, but the focus now is on us.

That is something we have stressed all season. If we trust in the game-plan, do the basics right and don't make silly errors, we will give ourselves the best possible chance.

Irish Independent

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