Thursday 22 February 2018

Player Diary: We're all raring to go again after an exhausting weekend in Italy

John Muldoon takes the attack to Zebre (SPORTSFILE)
John Muldoon takes the attack to Zebre (SPORTSFILE)

John Muldoon

Ten tries, 85 points, 80 minutes of Barbarian-esque Jekyll and Hyde rugby resulted in 46 tired rugby players. Whatever about the numbers and stats, the pace in that game against Zebre was huge.

That was the quickest we played in a long time and the way both teams chucked it around meant oxygen was at a premium.

Amazingly there were just six scrums in the game, including just one for us, and there was none at all in second half. That's a lot of ball-in-play time. It was a quiet night in Italy for us afterwards, that's for sure. A relaxing gelato across the road from the hotel and afterwards everyone was in bed very early - that'll tell you how tough a game it was.

We've had such bad weather back home that the pitches have taken a battering. It seems like we've been training in muck for months, so to play 80 minutes of hard track, top-of-the-ground rugby meant lads were struggling after 20 minutes. But that suits our game and to come away with the honours meant we were exhausted but happy.

An trip to Italy is always a bit of an expedition. After staying in Dublin Thursday night for a 7am flight to Milan on Friday morning, we didn't get back into Galway until 1.0 on Monday morning. It wasn't the ideal preparation for Ospreys this week, but at least we all got the chance for a bit of a sleep in in Parma.


The result of the draining game and long trip was a lighter than usual day on Monday, but since then we've ramped up our preparations nicely for a huge game tomorrow evening.

Of course it's nice to look at the Pro12 table and see ourselves at the top, but we've won nothing yet and we are all conscious of that fact. We've got plenty of praise for where we are, but people forget that we started well last season, we were up in the top three until after Christmas, and it was in April and May that we slipped out of the top six.

This form has been happening for 18 months or more, only last year we didn't push on in the closing stages. We've learned a few lessons from those failings, so hopefully with a few more good results we can finish the job.

It has been a positive few weeks, though. After clinching our European quarter-final spot, to pick up 15 points from three Pro12 games, you'd take it. It puts pressure on the teams around us to win, and it also gives us the encouragement to keep it going. It's nice to be there and great to be in the fight, but we're in the firing line like never before.

While the result was a real positive from Parma, the injuries weren't so great. Injuries are certainly part of rugby, but when you see a team-mate pick up a bad one it's never nice. So when it happened to Eoghan Masterson in Parma, we all felt for him. You knew by the reaction of both sets of players around him that it was a bad one and anyone who has a bad injury before knows how tough it is.

It's definitely hard on him, he's been having a very good year, but that's the nature of the contact sport. His season is definitely over, and he faces a long road to recovery, but I'm sure we'll have him back early next season.

There were a good few other knocks picked up out there too but I was delighted to see Ben Marshall make his comeback for us. After so long out, it was a real baptism of fire for him to come back into a game like that, and I'd say he was happy to see the curly finger with 15 minutes to go.

At that stage lads were really tiring, so he knows he wasn't alone. I know how it feels to have a double fracture of your arm in a year, it's a real frustrating time, so I'm sure it's a big relief for him to be back.

They always say that one man's misfortune is another man's gain, and Jack Cart's bad injury it has opened the door for AJ MacGinty. And I thought he was very good again last week.

It was a tough move for AJ, coming straight in here after the Word Cup. He's been playing in the USA for a few years, and now he is operating at a higher standard. Like everyone he needed a few games to find his feet, but last weekend I think we saw the real AJ.

There was less pressure on him, he didn't have to think about it and his game came naturally. We were very impressed with how he landed his pressure kicks, and in the end it was those kicks that made the difference.

It's back to action tomorrow night and I think I can speak for all of us in saying we can't wait to be back at the Sportsground. But we know this will be one of our biggest challenges of the season.

Ospreys are a quality team; they were unfortunate at the start of the year due to the number of Wales players they had at the World Cup. But they've earned a few big results of late so they'll have plenty of confidence coming here.

It's very important for us to take every game as it comes, but coming back home to the Sportsground gives us that boost.

We have won four games in a row with bonus points, but we still know we'll have to play that bit better to get points in the next two weeks. But I believe we have a few things up our sleeves to try and accomplish that.

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