Extra effort in battle of inches is the difference
Published 04/03/2016 | 02:30
This weekend we are back at Thomond Park for a Pro12 game for the first time in months and we are very keen to set up a good run-in for the rest of the season.
We were all given a real lift with the manner of our victory in Treviso last weekend and backing it up with another result is the plan for tomorrow evening.
It wasn't pretty in Italy, but it was one of those wins that we just had to grind out. We got ourselves into a situation where we had to come from behind, but the lads managed the game well and we took our chances.
It wasn't a free-flowing game - the conditions were shocking - but the key thing for us was that we played with a lot of energy and physicality, both with and without the ball.
We tried to put them under pressure in the right areas of the field. It took a while for us to get that territory and manage to play the game in their 22, and that's what made the difference in the end. It's hard to explain how bad it was for someone that wasn't there, but there were four or five inches of mud on top of the pitch; it was difficult to get your footing and to pass the ball; and the wind blew a gale.
But a few things edged it our way. The contributions of Tommy O'Donnell and Dave Foley cannot be underestimated. They both took part in the warm-up with Ireland in Twickenham, got straight into a car to get to Stansted, flew over to Italy, and got in at 10.30pm.
They both made massive contributions with 25 minutes each. Tommy won the winning penalty for us on the back of a double effort. He said his legs were like lead, as they would be with all that travel and the tough week he was after having. Both he and Dave made such a contribution to the win, which came at such a vital part of our season. Their effort could be the difference between making this season a success or a failure.
It was great to see Dave O'Callaghan go 80 minutes with a good performance too, considering he is just back from injury, but overall it was a great team effort. Our lineout came away with 100 per cent results and that gave us the platform in the second half to dictate the game. The collective effort was immense.
The key thing we look for is energy and physicality on both sides of the ball, to show positive body language and embrace conditions. The lads prepared well all week and from the start the work ethic was positive.
They played with three or four in the backfield all the time in an attempt to shut off our kicking game. So we had to be patient in how and when we kicked, but once we got that platform we backed our kick-chase. That pressure in their 22 produced the six points that won it for us in the end.
Ian had missed two really tough conversions in the first half, but his timing was good all week and in the game. And in the end the trickiest part of his last two kicks was the underfoot conditions.
The winning penalty had to be taken from a much more acute angle than he would have liked because the footing was so bad. The focus was to find the firmest patch of grass and he held his nerve. It was a really difficult kick and a very important time, so fair play to him.
Tomorrow we face a Dragons side that are a bit more dynamic and direct than Treviso. Their around-the-corner focus is huge. Their big ball carriers run hard and direct, tight to the ruck and generate quick ball. It's like hammer blow after hammer blow until you tighten up in defence and then they hit you out wide. They also have a very good back-row, so it's important that we focus on ball security and put in another solid defensive effort.
There is no doubt that this is a very important period for us. We are a bit off the pace in relation to the top four. We have picked up an important away win and have a game in hand, but we need to build on last weekend tomorrow.
The next few weeks are vital. We don't play any of the top teams, who are all playing each other, so we have to make sure that we build points so that we can climb up the table again.
Last week Ulster lost, so too did Ospreys and Scarlets. That will happen again in the next couple of weeks as teams face each other, so we have to take advantage if we want to be in the thick of the action in the closing games.