Thursday 8 December 2016

Good to see new leaders stepping forward with internationals away

Denis Hurley

Published 12/02/2016 | 02:30

CJ Stander in his man of the match display on his Ireland debut against Wales (SPORTSFILE)
CJ Stander in his man of the match display on his Ireland debut against Wales (SPORTSFILE)

The Six Nations has stolen the headlines in recent weeks, but it's back to basics for Munster, and we have a huge game at home to Ospreys on Sunday.

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I'm back running now after my injury and just have a bit of fitness work, and a few extra things, to get through. Hopefully I'll be available in time for this game. Last week I was able to focus on myself and it was quieter around the place with the rest of the squad enjoying a down week and a match-free weekend.

I'm sure the guys got the benefit from that. It was a tough couple of months with the amount of games we had against top opposition. Now we are into the Six Nations period and we have seven internationals away playing with Ireland during these upcoming Pro12 rounds, so we'll be tested.

So it's a bit different around here at this time of year and different players are speaking up. There are some different faces in training and you see a few more of the academy guys being called in to train. All of that just gives an extra bit of freshness.

We are really focused on the block of games coming up, it is going to be intense. There are only tough games ahead of us, and they start during the Six Nations. We are looking to pick up as many points as possible.

Tough

Looking at the next fortnight we have two tough games in succession with Ospreys this weekend at home, and then the following weekend we're away to Glasgow. These are the two teams that we played in the semi-final and the final last year so it gives you an idea of what's ahead of us.

We will continue to prepare for our games even though the focus elsewhere is going to be on how Ireland are doing. But that's part of the game, as much as we are supporting Ireland and the lads we have to look after ourselves and try to put ourselves in the best position. It's on us as a group to make sure there is plenty left to play for in the Pro12 when the internationals return to the squad.

During this block you can either make a big push or you can drop away in the league depending on results. Some teams don't lose as many international players and they will look at targeting opposition who have lost a number of key players and claim points during this Six Nations window.

Luckily we do have a strong squad here and I believe we still have enough quality as we have shown in the last number of years.

We have always been able to win the majority of the games throughout the Six Nations, and that puts us in to a good position in the league leading into the last couple of months.

Ospreys are never an easy side to play against, no matter how many players they have away on international duty. They have a number of top quality youngsters coming into their squad, and we are under no illusions about what lies ahead.

On the international scene Ireland made a great start to the Six Nations. The 16-16 draw might not have been the ideal end result after leading early on but they played some fantastic rugby and the Munster contingent did themselves proud.

Two thirds of the back row were Munster players and Tommy O'Donnell and CJ Stander had great games from the get-go. I think between them they had five carries in the first block of phases and it showed the mind-frame they were in.

For CJ throwing on the Irish jersey for the first time it was such a huge moment for him and his family. It's all the sweeter when he performed so well and got the man of the match award, which he seems to be getting a lot of lately.

Overall it was great to see everyone included in the squad perform so well.

Ireland were using the ball a lot more and just seemed to stretch Wales a little bit and put them under pressure for the first quarter of the game. But there was just one or two occasions where Ireland turned over the possession and those little moments started to put a bit of a dent in the momentum which was unfortunate. Wales are a quality side and it showed how good they were to be back in the game before half-time.

We all would have loved to see Ireland kick on in the second half, however, I think Wales did well to battle out the draw. They are definitely one of the top teams in the Six Nations and on paper they probably did have a stronger squad compared to Ireland, who were contending with various injuries in the camp.

There were a lot of changes, especially in the pack and Sunday's performance will certainly make it harder for the guys who were injured to get back in to the side. That's a great position for the team to be in.

The six-day turnaround to the France game is going to be quite tough. It was a very physical game also and guys had to empty the tank for that performance. They now have to get their bodies back right while at the same time try to get in some quality training and preparation for France.

On the other side, the French almost lost at home to Italy and they will be asking questions of themselves and will of course be looking forward to Ireland arriving over.

The last pool game in the knock-out stages of the World Cup was a physical battle and Ireland came out on top so no doubt the French will be looking at a bit of revenge this weekend.

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