Monday 5 December 2016

Jack O'Donoghue: The PRO12 is so tight, you need a cup final mentality in every game

Jack O'Donoghue

Published 04/03/2016 | 02:30

Francis Sailiscores his try against Treviso last weekend – everyone in Munster will want to see more of the same against the Dragons tomorrow. Photo: Sportsfile
Francis Sailiscores his try against Treviso last weekend – everyone in Munster will want to see more of the same against the Dragons tomorrow. Photo: Sportsfile

I'm not sure if people watching the game at home on Sunday realised what a battle it was and how difficult the conditions were, but after 80 minutes of attritional rugby in the muck in Treviso, I was never as happy to leave with a win.

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It was one of the toughest games I've played for Munster and the relief to win it was immense. Four points was a great return from the game.

The game wasn't helped by playing in the worst conditions we've faced all season - by a long distance. It was hellish at times, the rain lashed, the pitch was cut up and it was extremely boggy underfoot.

But we planned our game for that. It was a real forward-orientated game; we did as best as we could in the right areas, but it wasn't easy against a really determined Treviso.

Our discipline around the ruck and maul time was a bit off, we gave them a couple of handy penalties and they kicked their goals when they got them. It was the sort of game where every yard was crucial, especially against the wind.

Crucial

At one stage into the wind in the first half we defended on our own goal-line for ten or 15 minutes before they got their try. We made them work for their scores and that was probably crucial in the end.

I thought we had held it up, until I saw another replay and it showed that Robert Barbieri just touched the line, which was enough.

We looked into that defensive set-up after the Glasgow game because we conceded two soft tries over there. Ian Costello brought it up in our defensive meeting and it was something we looked at with the conditions that we knew were coming our way.

It proved vital; we were stuck on our line just chopping and blocking, scrambling in defence, so that work we did on Tuesday and Thursday showed.

It's important to get the body position right: you have to get low, into the three-point stance and be quick off the mark. You have to work in pairs too; one goes low and one targets the ball, and you hold them up.

In the end we conceded a try, but if a team knocks on the door for that length of time you can't feel too bad when they finally get that vital inch. It's not like a try off first phase, or a missed tackle. We made them work, and that stands to you for the rest of the game.

For sure, it wasn't really a backs' game, it was all about getting go-forward ball off set-piece. We had a couple of breakaways, but in the conditions handling errors were always likely to rear their heads.

In the green zone we were disappointed not to convert a bit more, but you have to expect those mistakes. Maybe we needed to play the percentage game, pick and go and recycle, but in the end we found our way.

We were all delighted to see Gerhard Van den Heever score early on and then for Francis Saili to get in for our second 'meat pie' as he calls them. It was a great kick from Andrew Conway and Francis was on hand to get the final touch. But in the end it was Ian Keatley who got us over the line with a couple of great late kicks.

We were three points behind with the wind behind us, and a bit of good territorial play got us on the front foot. We knew how hard it would be for them to get out of their 22; we kept the pressure on them and it paid off. Fair play to Ian though, they were tough kicks in the conditions but he nailed them.

The great news from the weekend was that we're back in the top six again. The league is so tight this year that every game from now has to have a cup final mentality. Another couple of defeats could have you fired out the back door again.

But we have a huge test against Dragons this weekend in Thomond. They are a real physical outfit. They keep sending forwards around the corner trying to batter you. They are so physical up front, they have a good scrum and maul and throw everything at you. We have to be ready for that battle up front.

Maybe it will be another mucky arm-wrestle this weekend, but we'll be ready to take them on. We badly want to win at Thomond in front of our home support.

I only saw bits and pieces of the Ireland match last weekend, and I thought they were terribly unlucky. They defended really well as England threw the kitchen sink at them. The lads fronted up big time and I don't believe the final score reflected their effort as they were unlucky not to get a few more tries which they deserved on the day.

It was a tough defeat, but it was great to see a few of the younger guys getting their run. I played in the Munster U-18s with Ultan Dillane, and I played at the U-20s World Cup with Josh van der Flier, so I was delighted to see the two of them and Stuart McCloskey getting their chance at Twickenham.

On one hand seeing those lads make the grade and not looking out of place shows that the step up to international level might not be that far away for a lot of us. But at the same time you want to be there as well and it just gives me the drive to do my best for Munster and get as much game-time as possible.

I know first and foremost I have to nail down my spot here and with the competition as high as ever in the back-row I just need to make the most of any opportunities I get.

I know that I have to knuckle down now, kick on, and progress here before any honours like that can come my way. Fair play to the lads though, I was delighted to see them make the step up.

Irish Independent

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