Treviso pose real test for us as we regroup
Published 25/11/2016 | 02:30
While our international teams have been kept very busy in recent weeks, once we finished against the Maori All Blacks, we all took the chance to have some vital down time to get ready for the busy months ahead.
It has been a very intense few weeks for the players here and I have to say how proud I am of the way they conducted themselves, both on and off the field in that time. Then for them to turn that attitude into impressive performances and victories was a real bonus. They worked very hard and they got their rewards - after that they deserved to relax.
But we have all been back together for the last week or so as we prepare for tomorrow's game against Benetton Treviso at Thomond Park. Their win in Italy over the Dragons remains their only win of the season so far, but I think their most recent game against Cardiff Blues is a more realistic way to assess them right now.
In the end they lost by six points to claim a losing bonus point, but they also scored 28 points and earned a second bonus point thanks to four tries. And as a South African native, you don't need to warn me about the danger of taking on Italian opposition after their historic win over the Springboks last weekend.
Since we got back together this week, confidence has been noticeably high in our group. We parted on the back of a memorable win and performance against the Maori All Blacks, a game where quite a few of our team were making their debuts or are still very early in their Munster careers. Despite their lack of experience they still performed admirably and we will need to see more of those traits tomorrow at Thomond Park.
On the international front, I was delighted to see Joe Schmidt's team beat New Zealand in Chicago and they were unlucky to lose out to the All Blacks, who came to Dublin determined not to be beaten again.
From a Munster point of view, it was disappointing that Keith Earls and Peter O'Mahony missed out and that CJ Stander had to leave early, but Conor Murray, Simon Zebo and Donnacha Ryan all impressed again.
And the week before against Canada, what an occasion it was for Billy Holland, John Ryan and Jack O'Donoghue when they made their international debuts. At various times Darren Sweetnam and Rory Scannell were also deservedly called into the squad and I'm sure when they come back we'll see an added confidence to their game.
This week we have also had confirmation that our away Champions Cup game against Racing 92 has been scheduled for the first weekend in January, which means we will play in the competition for three weeks in a row in 2017.
When tragedy struck us in Paris when Axel died, both the EPCR and Racing were most accommodating in postponing the game. Certainly, going back there again will be a difficult trip for all of us, but we'll face that game with the same attitude we have all along: we will play the game how Axel would have wanted us to.
But before that we have a number of really big games to play first, starting with Treviso tomorrow, where we are looking forward to playing well in front of our wonderful supporters.
Before the break we had generated some excellent momentum in our game and a real understanding of how we wanted to play. That has continued in training this week and we have laid out a game plan for the squad that we hope will see us to the win against Treviso.
There will be nothing straightforward about this game, but the plan is to finish with another four points.