Tuesday 28 February 2017

Raring to go after going through the wringer in hellish pre-season

Jack O'Donoghue

Jack O'Donoghue faced Worcester's Donncha O'Callaghan last weekend Photo: Seb Daly / Sportsfile
Jack O'Donoghue faced Worcester's Donncha O'Callaghan last weekend Photo: Seb Daly / Sportsfile

We've seen plenty of things change both on and off the field in the last few months here in Munster, but one thing never changes: pre-season is hellish.

This year was probably the toughest one I have gone through. I don't have that many under my belt, but this was streets ahead of what we have done before.

We all put ourselves through the ringer for the last ten weeks, but by the looks of the lads, it has all been worth it. We feel like we are ready for the test of nine months of rugby ahead.

I was in the gym a lot in the last few weeks. My big focus was to put on some muscle and after my recent work I'm happy enough with the weight I'm carrying now. I've put on nearly four kilos and I'm trying to keep up about the 108kg mark, which seems to suit me.

Coming back in after the break was tough. I was up a bit on the scales - and it wasn't exactly muscle from the holidays either - and I found it tough to get my conditioning right.

Physical

The last two months have been tough and physical. With the new coaches coming in, from day one everyone was very eager to impress and show them what they could do.

There wasn't anyone holding back on the pitch and I think we achieved a lot as a result.

After all that preparation it was great to get back on the field in Waterford with a win against Zebre.

And after that battle against a big, forward-orientated round-the-corner team, Worcester put it up to us again.

They are a typical Premiership team with a big pack of forwards, but I think we did very well against them up front. We got a penalty try too, so going forward into the Scarlets game I think we are in a good place.

We always say that rugby is a team game, but it can be difficult not to focus on your own patch in pre-season.

At this time of the year you only have a limited amount of time on the pitch because everyone on the bench gets a run.

You have to be a small bit selfish with the time that you have on the pitch. It was our last chance to try and put our name on the teamsheet for the Pro12 opener.

You have to try and get that jersey and once you have it you have to try and hold on to it. You have to try and make a bit impact in the coaches' eyes, especially when everyone is on the same starting point with a new coaching team.

Last weekend worked well for me against Worcester. They kicked plenty of restarts to me, which was pleasing. I could show that I'm solid under a high ball, and that I can carry strongly.

The downside of those restarts was running into Donncha O'Callaghan five or six times, which was a bit strange, but it was great to see him come back to a reception like he was given. He's Munster's most capped player and deserved all the plaudits he got.

With Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber coming in to the coaching set-up, and the move to the one base in Limerick, there is a real freshness about the place. They have brought a whole new philosophy to the game and I think it will suit the way we naturally play the game.

I have been really impressed with Jacques and his mindset and attitude towards defence. I think that showed in our defensive display against Worcester. Other than the late tries, I thought we fronted up well, we forced a lot of turnovers against them, we put them under a lot of pressure and forced the errors. That was a big positive ahead of Scarlets tomorrow.

With most of us based in Limerick now the vibe around the place is so much brighter. Travelling down to the game last weekend, we were chatting about all the driving we did up and down to training.

Already it was hard to believe that that's the way it used to be. We are so used to being together already.

Training is always just 15 minutes away, and we are all mingling together now. We are getting to know the Cork lads so much better now. I've even moved in with two of them; myself, John Madigan and Rory Scannell got a nice house together.

With all the lads together now the slagging has been ramped up big time.

Considering that we have been using the public gym in UL we have all been well behaved, but once we get into the new high performance centre it will be another lift for us all.

It looks to be an incredible facility and we are all excited by the prospect of training there.

Away from rugby, college is officially finished and I graduated last week which was satisfying. It'll be something new for me - managing my spare time will be a real effort now. There will be no rushing off to the library, but I'm sure the golf club will keep me busy.

But this week all focus has been on facing Scarlets, which is a tough trip to start the season. Last year over there they did us in the last minute, when they kicked a penalty at the death.

We have to be really screwed in mentally because one lapse in concentration, all of a sudden you find yourself under your posts.

Being the first game you don't have too much video footage, and you have to rely on last season's clips more than usual.

Teams could have changed their set-up, so you are going in blinder than you'd like.

So it all starts again tomorrow, and we'd love to get up and running with four points in the bag. It'll be tough, but we're ready for the challenges ahead.

Irish Independent

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