Friday 14 December 2018

Friendship is put aside as we get ready to tear strips off each other

Bundee Aki with his family after the game against Worcester Warriors at the Sportsground in Galway last weekend - there was more good news for Bundee and Connacht when Joe Schmidt included him in the Irish squad for the November internationals. Photo: Sportsfile
Bundee Aki with his family after the game against Worcester Warriors at the Sportsground in Galway last weekend - there was more good news for Bundee and Connacht when Joe Schmidt included him in the Irish squad for the November internationals. Photo: Sportsfile

John Muldoon

I ran water for the Challenge Cup game against Worcester Warriors last weekend, but I'm back fit and ready to go against Munster and I can't wait for another massive inter-provincial derby in a raucous atmosphere at the Sportsground.

I was free last weekend, so I just said to Kieran Keane that I would run water if he wanted. It was a different perspective on a game. It's been a while since I have stood on the sideline like that, running messages and being in the thick of things, but not playing.

I must say I enjoyed it. It was good to see the different way of looking at the game. I got to see how the coaches see it, and the messages that they were giving to the players. It was a learning curve for me as well and it's great to experience different things as a rugby player.

The conditions weren't great, but the important thing was we got the win and stayed top of our pool. We want to do well in Challenge Cup this season and we have put ourselves in a good position after the couple of wins. Hopefully we can push on and keep going into the latter stages now.

It's back to basics this week and it doesn't get any harder than Munster but we will regroup and it's back into Guinness PRO14 mentality.

Improving It's been a tough start to the season. A couple of results in the last few weeks went our way. Up to that we didn't deserve to win the games we lost but we were improving each week and that was the main thing from the team's point of view.

It was disappointing not to get the result on a couple of occasions. But we played a few good teams in Scarlets and Ulster in the later games, and if we eradicated a few silly errors in those games we could have come away with a few more points.

It's certainly a big step up for some of our players. But we need to get a couple of wins in the league to get us up the table and keep us competitive. You don't want to give yourselves too much to do. Hopefully we haven't done that already, and we have two home games now so it would be great to get a win or two.

Neither team will be easy. Munster are going very well and the Cheetahs have surprised a lot of people who don't know them and haven't watched Super Rugby.

They are quality and will have a lot of lads coming back in with the Currie Cup coming to an end. They will be able to bolster their squad. It won't get easier but we have to focus on Munster and try and do a good job there.

Traditionally, these games have been quite tight but entertaining at the same time. I don't think it matters to us who we are playing. From our point of view we just have to concentrate on ourselves and getting our own stuff right.

We can't be worrying about what team is coming to the Sportsground and what players they are bringing with them. We know we have the players and capability to beat any team.

It would be very remiss of us to start worrying about other teams. The way the season has been we just have to concentrate on our own jobs and do what we are doing right.

There is the little side game of it being a derby and they always add a little bit of a spice to it. But we have to concentrate on doing what we do right. That's the big thing for us.

Looking at some of their videos Munster are trying to up their pace this season as well, especially against the French and bigger teams in general, you have to up the pace and keep the ball in play as often as possible.

That was a tactic that we used well against Oyonnax and Worcester recently. We wanted to move them around the park and try and get them out of their comfort zone.

But Connacht and Munster have a great degree of knowledge of each other, we won't be running them off their feet. They won't have any fitness issues. That was something we tried to do in the last two games. But it's new game and a new physical challenge for us. We will both be trying to add tempo.

Derbies are particularly special for everyone because we all know each other so well. There are players on both sides who have played with and against each other for years. The reality is when you are playing against your friends, there is always that something extra out there.

The majority of us playing rugby in this country would have come through a GAA background and we are rather parochial in Ireland. We all enjoy the rivalry and the camaraderie that goes with it.

There will be no inch spared. There never is in these derbies. After the game everyone is friendly and gets on well, but while you are out there on the field for those 80 minutes you will enjoy getting stuck into the opposition and testing yourself against some of the best players in the country.

There are some age-old rivalries there and I will be no different, I have been playing against Munster for a long time. It's always a tight, aggressive game and I don't expect that to change.

I just can't wait to get out on the Sportsground in a big PRO14 on a Friday night again. We had a break with the European games and before that it was a few league games away from home.

We might not have done so well in Conference A so far this season, but the tide is definitely turning and we are going out to win against our rivals from the south.

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