Sunday 19 November 2017

We've got to get our defence up to same level as free-scoring attack

Tiernan O’Halloran gets in for a try against Cardiff earlier this month
Tiernan O’Halloran gets in for a try against Cardiff earlier this month

Tiernan O'Halloran

It's not often you come off a pitch after getting five points and you're disappointed, but that was the way we felt immediately after the win against Cardiff. That shows the level of our ambition.

The immediate feeling was frustration: we were annoyed to let them in for the try at the end that gave them two bonus points. All we had to do was secure the kick-off, but we turned it over.

But when we came back in and broke down the game in the review on the Monday we realised we had achieved our aims. We wanted to take five points and climb up the table - what they achieved has nothing to do with us.

We wanted the win first of all against them; they have been a tricky side for us to beat over the years. Getting our own bonus point along with the win was a massive boost for us heading into this game against Zebre. So we're in a good place mentally.

From my own point of view, the sin-binning was a real frustration. I was a bit unclear why I was yellowed first up, but these things happen. I think my boot hit the ball, but however it happened you let the team down when you are on the sideline for ten minutes.


The fact that Cardiff scored a try in that time as well made it all the worse. Sitting there you have a lot of time to think - especially when the sin-binning is split either side of half-time - and every minute that goes by seems like ten. It's like it's own separate time-zone.

And you really have to focus when you come back on to do things right. You cannot let your frustration get the better of you. It is very easy to run around like a headless chicken because you are so eager to make up for it. You just have to let the game come to you.

Thankfully it didn't cost us the win in the end.

Tonight's game against Zebre is a big one for us. We've had a few days off last week in preparation for the busy schedule ahead, but we've put in lots of work and preparation for this game too.

Looking at their games so far, you really have to ignore their first game against Cardiff because it was such a blow-out win, but since then they have been pretty impressive.

They might have no wins yet, but they are still a tricky side to play. They are tough defensively, they are hard to break down and our discipline has to be good too. We need to have our basics right and hopefully it will set us on the right track from the start.

One area we have been pretty disappointed with so far is our defensive return. In the last few seasons our defence has been our strength and scoring tries has been one of our work-ons. This year it seems to have flipped around: we're scoring plenty of tries, but we have let in a few sloppy ones at the other end. It is important that we sure that up this weekend, put in a solid display in defence and limit their opportunities.

The past week was similar to the week before the Glasgow game. After Cardiff we had a six-day break and came back in on Monday. Apart from watching the World Cup on TV it was a total switch-off from rugby for all of us.

I was tuned in religiously to all of the games, but in the last week that has tapered off. I got stuck into the Australia versus Wales game last weekend, which was an incredible defensive display from the Aussies, and on Sunday the Ireland game really got me hooked. Jason Harris-Wright is my housemate and we watched it at home. It was pretty impressive.

With key guys going off injured, it was amazing the way the whole team stepped up to the mark. The bench made a huge impact: Iain Henderson was throwing lads around the place.

You have to be impressed with the physicality; they really matched France in that area. They got off the line and made their tackles. The game-plan was good too; they didn't let France play too much rugby in the Irish half.

Like we did after the Japan-South Africa game, we showed a few clips of the Ireland win and talked about what they did well and what we could learn from it. There were plenty of plays that we will look to emulate down the line.

It was great to see the Connacht lads playing their part too. Robbie Henshaw was unbelievable up against Mathieu Bastareaud, who is such an imposing physical specimen.

But that's the thing about Robbie, he's a bit strange: the bigger they, are the more excited he is to hit them. We all know he loves the contact, but it was great to see him coming out on top of the battle of skill too. He didn't look like the young lad of the team at all; he looked like one of the mature leaders, which is great to see from him on that stage.

It's the same with Whitey, he is a massive character in our squad, he is one of our main leaders. Every time he comes on, the scrum is solid as a rock. His work rate is amazing too, he even popped up at scrum-half a couple of times. He is a great reader of the game and always seems to be in the right place.

The two boys will get a well-deserved break whenever they finish up, but we look forward to them getting back to us - hopefully with a nice bit of silverware to their names too.

Irish Independent

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