Monday 24 July 2017

Effort put in all season has driven us to semis

Rassie Erasmus pictured with TG4 director-general Alan Esslemon after being presented with the Guinness PRO12 Coach of the Season award. Photo: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Rassie Erasmus pictured with TG4 director-general Alan Esslemon after being presented with the Guinness PRO12 Coach of the Season award. Photo: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Independent.ie Sportdesk

We had a couple of days off earlier in the week but we were back to it on Wednesday morning. I took the chance to head to Kerry for a few days, but it was good to get back to work with so much to look forward to in the coming weeks.

The Connacht game was great; there is no doubt it was a fine way to sign off our league games. When you compare it to where we were this time last year it's amazing. That team was fighting to get into Europe, so in the space of a year, to have that sort of turnaround and to have a home advantage in a semi-final, is great.

At the end of the 22 games the 86 points earned is the highest number Munster have ever accumulated in this competition, the highest points recorded by any side. That says a lot about this current group of players for them to achieve that.

There is a lot to be proud of and a lot that is still being built. I thought the nature of our attacking play was top-class again last weekend, and the score reflected the style in which they ran the game.

Following the disappointment of losing to Sarries, we were quick to reflect on the season as a whole and we have to be realistic - seeing how far we have advanced in a year is a huge positive for this group.

Although we have not won either of the top competitions yet, we would not be in contention at this stage of the year without a brilliant squad effort.

When I looked at the bench last weekend and I saw the standard that was to come on, I knew we had a decent team out, but in fairness to the lads that started the game they didn't lie down at all.

Effort

They did their bit and had the game won for the other lads to finish it off. It's very pleasing to see them having that confidence to come through.

What we are seeing all season is the effort being put in right across the board, and I think the fact that Peter Malone led the 'A' team to a great win in the B&I Cup shows the depth of talent we have here. But the effort has been there to match that talent too, and with that in mind, last weekend's win with so many of those lads involved was very pleasing.

On the back of that effort, we have a home semi-final to be excited about, and if we're being honest, it's great to have it in Thomond Park. When you come to this stage of the season you think, 'If I never see another airport I'll be happy', so to have the game in familiar surroundings is a real bonus - especially from a logistics points of view. But we are just delighted to be in the last four with a shot at winning a title still.

On the back of all the work the lads have done all year they deserve it, but for the supporters who have followed us all season, it's a bonus. They have been there every step of the way with us and I'm happy for them too.

When it comes to the semi-final you are always guaranteed a tough game - you have to be in form to get that far in the first place. Whether it was Scarlets or Ospreys it didn't matter: they are both classy sides and it'll be a tough game now that it's Ospreys for us. We'll look no further than this game that's for sure, and we'll see where it takes us.

Meanwhile, quite a few of the lads were happy to be named in the team of the year and as well as Rassie being awarded coach of the year, it was a pleasing few days. Then we had our own club awards last week and Tyler and Darren were worthy winners of the senior and young player of the year. A lot has happened in the last 12 months so to see the lads being recognised for their work is always positive.

It's good that we have that foundation to build on, and reaching two semi-finals is far from the be all and end all. There are a lot of things to get right and over the next season or two we would hope to make that happen.

While we are very disappointed not to be playing in tomorrow's Champions Cup final, we are delighted to hear that the EPCR will be presenting a new man of the match award in Anthony Foley's memory at the game. They have made a new trophy in recognition of his association with the tournament. Axel was synonymous with our European journey and he continues to hold our try-scoring record in Europe with 23 tries.

For sure, it will be tough for Olive and the boys who will present the award, but it is incredible recognition for a guy that the competition meant everything to.  We'll all be looking on with pride as it is handed over.

Irish Independent

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