Tuesday 28 February 2017

Duncan Casey: If we defend like we did last week, our season will be over tomorrow

Duncan Casey

Munster were disappointed to give away a lead against Ulster but are attempting to take the positives from the draw SPORTSFILE
Munster were disappointed to give away a lead against Ulster but are attempting to take the positives from the draw SPORTSFILE

So here we are. The end of another long, gruelling season. Despite our hopes of a lengthy European journey being halted before they even began, we still have some silverware to play for.

Everyone in the squad would have loved to be playing in the Champions Cup semi-final and more. But every cloud in rugby has a silver lining. Ours was the opportunity to focus all of our energies exclusively on the league and push for a home semi-final.

We took maximum points in four out of our last five games, with a gutsy draw in Ravenhill the only blip.

We put ourselves in a position to win against Ulster but failed to hold out for every last second, as you often must with teams of that calibre. We didn't and we were punished.

Naturally, we were very disappointed but we realised quickly that to come to Ravenhill and grind out a draw against such formidable opposition is no mean feat.

The bus journey back home was far from depressing as we knew that all we could do was go after the Dragons the following Saturday and do everything in our power to get the right result.

Thankfully we did. Afternoons where you score eight tries and 50 points don't come around too often in this league. We were glad we managed to entertain the home crowd in our last game of the season in Irish Independent Park (even if most of the scores came from mauls!).

What we weren't glad about was conceding four of our own.

If it's rare that we score 50 points it's even rarer that we concede 27. Until last weekend we had the lowest number of tries conceded in the league, which is testament to how effective our defence has been all season.

Granted, it's difficult to play with the same level of structure and shape when you score your fourth try after half an hour. The Dragons, with nothing to play for, were still a very difficult side to compete with.

This lack of apprehension on their part meant they tried things that they may not have done for the entire season and scored some nice tries in the process.

We are fully aware that if we concede 27 points against the Ospreys tomorrow, our season will be over. They are an excellent side who won't let such inadequacy go unpunished.

Unfortunately I missed last weekend's game. I developed an issue with my back about seven weeks ago which saw my condition deteriorate to the point of not being able to function on a rugby pitch.

We were baffled as to the cause of the pain until scans revealed that I'm suffering from some wear and tear in a couple of my lower back joints.

Although it's a pretty common injury in front-row forwards, the pain really is incapacitating. I underwent some treatment which seems to have done the trick, and I've been training without issue all week as a result.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I won't be having any flare-ups for the rest of my career. I never appreciated how debilitating having a bad back was until I suffered from it myself. Needless to say I know all about it now!

It's not very long since the last time I gave a breakdown of the Ospreys and how lethal an opposition they can be. I think it's worth reiterating, given the week that's in it!

Rhys Webb has been one of the stand-out players in world rugby this season. His performances in all competitions for the Ospreys and Wales have led many people to believe that he and Conor Murray will battle it out for the starting spot on the Lions tour to New Zealand in 2017.

Another man who has turned heads with his performances all season is fiery-headed No 8 Dan Baker. Much of the Ospreys' game-plan centres around Baker and his ability to carry the ball well over the gain-line.

We will have to target him early on and neutralise this threat because if there's one team you don't want to be on the back foot against, it's the Ospreys.

Alun Wyn Jones and Paul O'Connell can be expected to have a good tussle. They were Lions team-mates in 2009 and 2013 and probably know each other inside out at this stage. Jones has been a permanent fixture in the Wales side for some time and will be a very difficult opponent.

One thing is for sure, there won't be much between the teams at the final whistle.

Congratulations are in order for six members of the squad who were selected for the Emerging Ireland tour to Georgia in June. Stevie, Billy, JJ, Andy, Jamesy and Rory will be flying the Munster flag for us over there and we wish them the best of luck. I've no doubt they'll play a pivotal role in the side taking home the Tbilisi Cup.

I must also extend thanks to Andy, who made a sizeable donation of clothes to the Mid West Simon Community this week. As always, supplies are desperately low and the food bank is particularly understocked.

If you can spare €10, please spend it on food with a lengthy shelf life and drop it in. You've no idea how greatly it will be appreciated.

That's it for me for this season. Thanks to everyone who took the time to read my diaries. I hope you enjoyed them.

Now we just have the small matter of winning a semi-final to take care of. Enjoy the game!

Irish Independent

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