Monday 24 July 2017

We will all be on edge but this one's huge for us

Ian Keatley goes through his paces during training at the University of Limerick. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Ian Keatley goes through his paces during training at the University of Limerick. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Niall O'Donovan

After ten months of hard work it's hard to believe there is a maximum of eight days and two games left in the season.

This time last season we were finished with rugby already. Being at the business end of the season is great, but it's no good being here if you don't kick on and reach a final. It'd be nice to face into our holidays with a smile on our faces.

It has been a long campaign for everyone, but we're not ready to sign it off just yet. When the natural break came in November we played the Maori All Blacks; then with the postponed game that kicked on to another down week for the lads.

The whole season seems to have gone from one week to another, but the important thing is that we get something out of it. We hope to have two more games to get some reward. Tomorrow's game is very important to us.

Even after all my years in the game I still get nervous for these matches. I know well how a game of rugby can twist and turn. Games can change on a mistake or a flash of brilliance. I've seen it change too often to be calm. When two good sides collide, one slight momentum change can win or lose the game. I'll be nervous like everyone, but it's that buzz that keeps you coming back.

It is great to see the guys who picked up knocks against Connacht back in the fold - that's a boost ahead of this game. Other than the guys who are out for the rest of the season we have a clean bill of health.

We have already been beaten in a semi-final but we have another chance to make a final, and we're keen to get there. We are up against a very good Ospreys side and they'll have a lot of players fit and healthy as well. It will be a cracking game I'd say - just like the other semi will be.

Blips

At the start of the season Ospreys were in excellent form. They had a couple of blips along the way when they lost a few of their big players at different stages, but right through they played some great rugby. They were the leading try scorers in the competition and are a great team to watch. When they click they are a very, very dangerous side. We are very conscious of that and we have to be at our very best defensively and in attack to take them.

As I said, games can turn on something very small, so with that in mind we have to be efficient in attack. We put a lot of pressure on Sarries and came within inches of their line countless times. That extra six inches can be the hardest ones to gain though, so we have to nail as many chances as we can.

If you look at the Champions Cup final, Saracens took their chances and that proved key to their win. I thought it was a cracker of a game. Clermont's second try to pull them back to within a point was a fabulous score, but they just couldn't get ahead. At the start I feared for Clermont a bit and it looked like Sarries were going to run away with it, but you have to give a lot of credit to Clermont for staying in there and making a game of it.

I don't think it was ever going to go any other way though. Saracens did what they do best: they strangle the life out of you and suffocate teams. They are just very strong all over the field and they are worthy winners of it.

Benchmark

But it shows the level we have to get to if we want to win it. It's a good benchmark for us to have, playing the champions. We know where we have to get to, but getting there takes a lot of time and effort.

Before too long there will be 20 teams in there again fighting to win it. It is a really tough competition especially when you get to the knockout stages. Then you have Sarries who'll want to match Toulon's achievement of three in a row. They are talking that language already.

You'd think that the seeding we will have next season will help us a small bit, but the luck of the draw is still massive. You could meet the likes of Toulon or Racing; nowadays there are no bad teams in the competition.

It was also lovely to see Olive and Tony in Edinburgh presenting the Anthony Foley award. It is a great tribute to Anthony, and to see that presented in years to come will be great. It will keep his name there in our memories. In fairness to the EPCR, it was a great thing for them to do, you have to take your hat off to them.

Hopefully, we can put in another performance Anthony would have been proud of tomorrow.

Irish Independent

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