Tuesday 6 December 2016

Player Diary: Our focus was quick to change to Connacht after Paris cancellation

Jack O'Donoghue

Published 27/11/2015 | 02:30

A general view of players warming up for squad training this week ahead of tomorrow’s clash with top of the table Connacht
A general view of players warming up for squad training this week ahead of tomorrow’s clash with top of the table Connacht

Last weekend was a mix of positives and negatives for all of us. We were on a high after the win against Treviso and we were really looking forward to facing into a big challenge away to Stade Francais. But with the events in Paris, you have got to respect the game not going ahead.

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It still came as a bit of a shock when we found out midweek that the game had been called off, but our attention and focus immediately switched to facing Connacht this weekend.

We had a good look at them after that, which was a great way to put the disappointment of missing out on the Stade game behind us.

On the plus side, we all took some time off last weekend because you really don't know when the next day off is coming at this time of the year. I took the chance to get home to Waterford. It was great to see all the family and catch up with a few friends.

It was a really relaxing, enjoyable couple of days. It was a well needed break too. I left college and rugby behind me, put it all on hold and kicked back completely.

Even Christmas will be busy so the chance to head home was most welcome. We have a game the day after St Stephen's Day against Leinster at Thomond Park and take on Ulster on New Year's Day.

Challenge

This is my first season really in the mix of the team, and I'm sure that Christmas period will be an interesting challenge, but it's one I'm looking forward to, especially against our inter-pro rivals.

The win against Treviso was a big deal for all of us, but for a few lads - myself included - it was the first taste of European action.

It was a real different intensity and buzz around the place. Munster players and management live and breathe Europe. That's our stomping ground - we have always been associated as a top team in Europe.

The atmosphere in the ground and the vibe in training was completely different to anything I've experienced. It was a great day and a huge thrill to get a European start in Thomond Park. Even though it was a miserable night, the crowd still came out and supported us. They made themselves heard during the game.

It was a great insight and experience for me personally. I was pretty nervous before the start, but once it starts it's just another game - albeit one with a lot up for grabs. It was a hugely enjoyable experience.

The fact that we were all happy with that win meant it was tough not to have another game to play last weekend.

We had our full squad session on the Tuesday and we hadn't heard anything by then. We were in full game mode, in our eyes the game was going ahead and we had ticked off a lot of the small detail early on in the week as per usual.

But the postponement won't really effect us. The way your mind works as a player, you have to be focused on the week ahead, preparing for the next game: it just happens that Connacht is now our next one.

And it's probably no harm to have an extra couple of days to prepare for this game.

If the game in Paris had gone ahead we'd have played on Sunday, travelled home on the Monday, and we would have had a short week's preparation after that.

There can be no excuses now: we've had more preparation than usual for an inter-pro. We want to be the number one team in Ireland, and these games are doubly important as a result. We already have a win in the bag against Ulster at Thomond Park this year, and if we want to get to the top of the Pro12 standing and be the best in the country, these are the games we need to win.

Connacht are definitely the team to beat: they are top of the table, have won eight of their nine games this season. It's going to be a massive game this weekend - it'll be exciting for everyone - players and supporters.

I played Ireland U-20s with a few of the Connacht lads, and a few more of them moved from Munster and Leinster. I played a good bit with Ultan Dillane at Munster and Ireland U-18s and he's going really well for them. He's very highly rated.

I played underage with Rory Parata as well. He has done really well, with two tries in his last two games, and he's a really skilful player. It'll be good to face two of the boys. Some of their guys mightn't have played their underage rugby in the province but they have made a big name for themselves in the green shirt.

I wasn't involved last year at the Sportsground, but they played really well to take the win on a miserable night. The conditions were appalling, but they certainly deserved their win up there. But we're confident that Thomond Park tomorrow will be a different story.

We played them in pre-season, and things didn't go our way either, so that game is really fresh in our minds. We know it's going to be a hugely physical game, we have to be ready to play in all sorts of conditions, so it will be a real roll-the-sleeves-up effort.

They have launched their success of late off a powerful pack, a dominant scrum and lineout; they love to maul and that gives their quality backs something to play off.

There is four points up for grabs this weekend and if results go our way we can go top. That's where we want to be; we want to be in control of our own destiny. They'll be looking to move clear at the top of the table, but we have eyes on that spot too. There's plenty to play for.

Irish Independent

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