Saturday 24 June 2017

Player diary: Jack O'Donoghue - A return to basics paid off but we need it consistently from here

CJ Stander has been in such great form and, with Tommy O’Donnell back from injury, it’s difficult for Jack O’Donoghue to get a starting place in the team Photo: Sportsfile
CJ Stander has been in such great form and, with Tommy O’Donnell back from injury, it’s difficult for Jack O’Donoghue to get a starting place in the team Photo: Sportsfile

Jack O'Donoghue

Thomond Park was a lot happier place to be in at the weekend than Stade Jean-Bouin was - that's for sure. We went back to basics: our maul got moving again and we got a try from it early on, and there was plenty of physicality about our play again.

It was great to see us going back to what's good about our game.

Added to that, it was really pleasing to see the backs finish off some excellent scores. The tries from Simon Zebo and Keith Earls were brilliant finishes and it shows the talent they have when they are put on the front foot.

Overall it was a great team performance. Our defence fronted up very well - it was back to what we did in the win against Ulster. In Paris we allowed easy tries in, but there was none of that at Thomond last weekend.

Our line-speed was excellent and for the most part we nailed the important tackles. Our kick-chase was aggressive, and we were the first to dive on loose balls.

Most importantly our execution when the chances came our way was good. We chipped away at the scoreboard, kicked penalties and ran in some great tries. Hopefully it's a sign of things to come.

Paper

But while it was a good bonus point win, the result cannot paper over the fact that there is still plenty to work on.

We can do a lot better at the lineout, our scrum can be tightened up a bit too, and we conceded a few too many penalties. We've been looking at improving all of those aspects of the game this week, so we plan to see improvements there.

In the lead-up to the game last week there was a bit of trepidation around the place, but the fact that we were out of the running meant that we could go out and play the game with a certain degree of freedom.

Players and coaches had come in for a bit of flak in the press; we had been pretty much written off after that loss in Paris - and deservedly so, it was poor from us.

But it was the Munster supporters that we wanted to perform for last weekend. We wanted to give them something to cheer about, we wanted to bring the atmosphere back into Thomond Park and we wanted to give our fans back that hunger to come and see us.

Thankfully we did it with some good, expansive rugby and I think everyone left the ground pretty happy.

It was a bit of a surprise during the week when we saw that there was a small mathematical chance that we could still qualify for the quarter-finals; for us to get through is verging on the impossible at this stage, but we still want to finish off the pool with as much style as possible.

Treviso has never been an easy place for Munster to go over the years - they have beaten us a couple of times - but we really want to show that last week was no flash in the pan. For certain we are targeting a win and if we start the game with the right attitude, hopefully we can put in a positive performance.

It'll be nice to face them again from a personal point of view especially as the home leg was my first European start for Munster. Hopefully I'll get the nod this time again - I've been knocking on the door since then and it is a bit frustrating not to have started since. But you have to respect what the coaches think, but I'll be ready if called upon on Sunday.

Having CJ Stander in such great form, with Tommy O'Donnell being back fit, and having so much competition in the back-row, it's very hard to get a start at the minute. But any time you get in it's a great experience playing with those lads and you have to make the most of it.

Tommy is a top-quality openside. As I discovered earlier this season it's a really tough position to play if you're not used to it. He is so effective around the breakdown, and is so explosive off scrums to make the tackle. It's great to have him there to watch and learn from.

Getting that chance at No 7 has definitely improved my game in general, though. My work around the breakdown has come on a huge amount, but I still have plenty of room to improve. The cuteness required for the position only really comes with experience, so I still have a bit of work to do. That fine-tuning is vital.

We have this game on Sunday and another next week against Zebre, but you have to expect that we'll be without the lads that are called up to the Ireland squad for that game.

That will make for a busy five or six weeks for everyone who is not involved, so we are all prepared to put in a few more tough shifts.

I'm sure we'll be down a couple of faces from the back-row, so that might give me a chance for a bit more extended time. I have 14 appearances already this season, which is brilliant, but another start in the Champions Cup this weekend is my immediate goal.

I knew from the start of the year that this would be another time for me to show the coaches what I can do. We had the same at the start of the campaign with the World Cup, so we know what's required.

On a sad note, we were all really sorry to hear about BJ Botha's injury. He has been a great player for Munster and he was very generous in passing on his knowledge of the scrum and the game in general. He will be a massive loss to the team.

Mario Sagario and John Ryan have a great chance now to make a name for themselves, but BJ will be in and around the place to help us. Hopefully his rehab goes smoothly.

Irish Independent

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