Sunday 22 October 2017

Castres will look to dominate us and we have to give it back to them

Peter O'Mahony scores a try against Castres in 2011. O'Mahony has been telling the newer members of the Munster squad about their last game in the southern French town, which was won with a late Ronan O'Gara drop goal Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Peter O'Mahony scores a try against Castres in 2011. O'Mahony has been telling the newer members of the Munster squad about their last game in the southern French town, which was won with a late Ronan O'Gara drop goal Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

Jack O'Donoghue

This week is always a big one in the Munster set-up as we change focus from the league to the Champions Cup, but after that loss to Leinster an eight-day turnaround is most welcome. The body may be in good shape, but that was a really hard defeat to take to be honest.

After the game it has been said in a couple of places that the Munster-Leinster game is not what it used to be, but from close quarters, it was just as physical as previous games and both teams wanted to try and beat the other. There was nothing soft about it.

Maybe Leinster kept a few players in reserve and we tried out a few guys in different positions, but from our point of view we were very much aware of who we were coming up against and how big a test it was.

For anyone who was in the dressing room and on the bus back afterwards there was no hint that the result was like any other defeat. Even into Monday and Tuesday that sick feeling after a defeat still lingered.

I don't think any of our squad felt the derby game meant less to them than before. Points, pride, bragging rights and Irish selection are all up for grabs in these games. No one likes losing to Leinster.

nasty We had a different week than usual because of this Sunday's game. Monday was a down day for most of the squad, but because I only got a few minutes I did a bit of a session myself. I hit the gym on Monday evening while I felt in good shape and joined the rest of the squad on Tuesday morning for our review of the Leinster game.

That was a bit of a nasty one, it was an ugly watch in parts, but you always have to review the game win or lose. It was tough to watch a few of our mishaps, but it was something that we had to do to be ready for Castres.

I had a look back at the game before we did it as a squad, and I thought there were a few moments where a pass didn't go to hand, or an error cost us and had things worked out for us it could have been a far different 80 minutes.

Keith Earls could well have gotten us off to a great start, on another day that pass is flat and he's away. Any lead in a game like that ramps the pressure up on the opposition. Being 7-0 down and chasing the game a few minutes later makes for a very different game of it.

We saw what happened when we were indisciplined and it really cost us in Dublin. Going to France, somewhere where you rarely get a sniff, you have to be as squeaky clean as possible right across the pitch.

To think we were 10-1 down on the penalty count after an hour, and five of them were kickable is very poor from us and it is something we've spoken at length about this week. That's 15 points for your opponent. If we were given that in any game we'd bite your arm off. How are you supposed to keep in a game if you give away that number of penalties?

As a back-row your job is to tiptoe that line between legality and illegality at the breakdown, and sometimes you end up on the wrong side of that. We were not good enough in our maul defence either and we conceded too many penalties there too. It's down to the referee's interpretation and for the second week in a row we clearly got it wrong. Discipline is our biggest work-on for this week as we head to France.

And it's a real tricky trip. We have only been to Paris in the last two seasons, so this will be something new for us. Peter O'Mahony and Conor Murray are the only survivors from the last away trip against Castres in 2011, and Pete filled us in a bit on his memories from that game, which Munster only won with a last-minute Ronan O'Gara drop goal.

After watching them last season against Leinster we're expecting a real tough outing. They really put it up to them. Once again they have a massive pack and they are really going to try and win this one up front. They will look to dominate us and we'll have to be ready to give it back to them. Our backs need a good platform to work off.

We looked through their strengths in the last few days and it is clear to see they are a quality side. They did lose to Brive last weekend who hadn't won a game before that, but I think they seemed to rest a few lads seeing as it was an away game for them. When you look one week further back, their win over Clermont tells you what they can produce when they have their front-line guys out.

They don't tend to make too many changes in their back-row, so we think we have had a good look at their line-up, but I'm sure there will be a surprise or two in there too. Maama Vaipulu has played a good bit at No 8 for them this season and he is a powerful guy, but right across the pack they have big-hitters.

Seeing as this is their first game of the season in the Champions Cup they will be really keen to impress and make a bit of progress.

Because we don't play until Sunday, we don't fly out until tomorrow and we'll have our captain's run before we head away. Having that extra day is a bit strange, but then again it's no harm to have some more time to scrub up on a team we haven't played before.

At the back of our minds this weekend will be the realisation that it's a year since Axel died. It was an away trip to France where it all happened and his anniversary is the day after our game. The emotion will be there for sure, but there won't need to be too much said about it either.

Everyone knows what's at stake and how much he meant to us. A year on... the year has flown and it's hard to believe it's that long. Axel is still with us, that's for sure.

Irish Independent

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