Player Diary: Jack O'Donoghue - A chance to focus on studies as we gear up for big finish to season
Published 05/02/2016 | 02:30
Last weekend was a bit of a strange one for us. We left Italy with the win for the second week in a row, we still slipped down the table into sixth place, but we also moved closer to the top. Figure that one out!
What that tells me is that this year's Pro12 is tighter than it ever was and that every point is critical from here until the end of the season.
Losing bonus points take on huge value and try bonus points are almost priceless.
As we sit now, just four points separate the top six teams in the league standings, and we have a game in hand on three of the teams ahead of us, which we hope will be crucial. Win that game and we could well go top.
With ten games to go, it's all up for grabs for whoever wants to take it.
Last weekend the league leaders Scarlets fell to a bonus point defeat to Connacht, which wasn't the best result for us, but on the other hand, another two of the top four, Leinster and Edinburgh lost their games.
When you look below us in the standings, the next three teams are just covered by three points, and two of those teams are champions Glasgow Warriors and Ospreys - our next two opponents. We are in for one hell of a finish to the season!
This week has been a chance for everyone to take a bit of a breath after a manic 16 weeks in a row. Even the one weekend we had off with the game against Stade Francais being called off wasn't really a break because we had been preparing for that match for most of the week.
It's been tiring on everyone and we're all delighted to get the chance to step back from the game for a few days.
From my point of view, it is a great chance for me to get some college work taken care of. As a student at University of Limerick, they have been a great help to me over the years and I think I've found a good balance with the workload. For example, if I have an assignment due on a Friday, having to travel to a game on a Thursday is always a bit of a problem, so I have to front-load the work as much as possible.
This week I took the chance to get some good study in. I did a few labs and had a few meetings with my lecturers, to organise the next few weeks. Having that break from the game is a great chance to get my ducks in a row.
Looking back at the game in Parma last weekend, there was a sense of frustration again after the game despite the win. We needed a try from Mark Chisholm and a great kicking performance from Ian Keatley to take the win - Zebre were a real sticky team for us to face.
They caught us a bit by surprise with their approach. We had expected them to kick a good bit of ball to us, but they went out on the day with a licence to run the ball from everywhere.
They pinned their ears back from inside their own 22 and we really found it difficult to cope with their game-plan, especially in the first half.
Even though they lined up without Dries van Schalkwyk at the back of the scrum, who is probably their best player, they were pretty impressive in the back row. Their No 7, Johan Meyer, had a very good game and was a real pain around the breakdown, and Emiliano Caffini was in good form on the flank too.
From a personal point of view, the game was a bit frustrating. I went off at half-time, but watching on after that the same emotions of frustration were there. At times we were inaccurate in our passing and we weren't able to execute the way we wanted to. Zebre made it tough for us, but we should have been a lot better too.
Tomorrow and Sunday are going to be all about the Six Nations. Even though we taking a break from the game for the few days, I don't think too many of the lads will be tuning out that much that we'll miss the Ireland game.
It'll be great to see how the Munster lads go in the Six Nations. It's a big competition for all of the experienced lads, but it's especially huge for lads like CJ Stander and James Cronin who are newer to that environment. I know Jamesie got a cap last year but he'll want to drive on from that, and I hope it goes well for them all.
We were all delighted to hear that Keith Earls, Simon Zebo and Conor Murray signed up for the next few seasons with Munster, and I'm sure they are thrilled themselves to have that all taken care of ahead of a busy few weeks.
Billy Holland's new deal is another lift to the Munster squad, he is a real experienced guy to have around the squad, and his form has been brilliant in the last few weeks since he got back from injury. He is a great help to a lot of the young players in the squad and watching the way he conducts himself and prepares for games sets a great example.
After the weekend we'll be back together to prepare for a tough return to Pro12 action.
Any time you play Ospreys you know it's going to be a tough game, but the fact that they have been lingering in the bottom half of the table for a while means they will be pumped up to finish the season on a high.
We're ahead of them by six points, but that's nothing really. We need to win this game and move a bit further ahead of them.
With less than half of the season remaining, that would be a great achievement and a step in the right direction.