Sunday 18 February 2018

A great display in Belfast needs to be backed up against Ospreys

Player Diary

Ulster’s clash allowed Munster O’Donnell to catch up with Ireland players like Rob Herring
Ulster’s clash allowed Munster O’Donnell to catch up with Ireland players like Rob Herring

Tommy O’Donnell

Whenever you leave Belfast with four points in the bag it means it was a positive trip, but so many more things about our game with Ulster made it a special occasion.

The way we played, kept cool and took the win with a late drop goal was a real bonus, but the sense of camaraderie that we experienced with everyone involved in Ulster Rugby is something we'll all remember for years to come.

Before a ball was kicked it was lovely to see the plaque they had erected in the away dressing room in memory of Axel. We did something similar at Thomond Park after Nevin Spence passed away, but it really meant a lot to us to see him remembered.

After the match the Ulster lads came in to our changing room in a show of support. That's something you'd love to see happen more in professional rugby. Nowadays you mingle afterwards upstairs when you are having your meal, but to sit down in the dressing room, with your boots on, having a drink with a guy you have gone toe-to-toe with was a nice touch.

There was a general milling around, I had a chat with lads like Rob Herring, Tommy Bowe and Dan Tuohy that I know from Ireland camp, but even for Rassie and Jacques it was good for them to meet up with a few South African lads that they would have coached at various levels.

Crazy

Maybe it was a follow-on from the after-match reception we were given, but the bus ride home to Limerick was a good laugh too. It's not an easy journey, but we had one or two more beers to shorten the road a touch. It was nothing crazy at all, but we watched the game and had a bit of a relaxed team review. A few jokes flew round when a knock-on or a missed tackle was spotted, and that's was when lads put their heads down to avoid the inevitable banter.

Before we knew it we were crossing the border back into the province, but after a win like that it was important for us to enjoy it together.

After the emotional high of the week before the big question was could we do it again, and I think the lads showed that the performance was still there, albeit without the energy of a packed Thomond Park and the emotions of Axel's death to drive us on.

We certainly dug a hole for ourselves going 14-0 down, but even then I thought we'd played pretty well for the first half. We were making great inroads, but every time we got to the scoring zone something freakish seemed to happen. Sometimes games go like that. Ulster don't lose too often in Belfast, but once we kept a positive mind throughout we came out of it.

For the coaches and ourselves, the pleasing thing was that we didn't panic when those errors popped up. We stuck to our game plan, we kept plugging away and eventually it came right for us.

We did put some pressure on Ulster and they got in for a couple of soft enough tries. But even when we let them in for the second try our heads didn't go down at all. Then just before half-time we got in for a score of our own when the clock had gone past the 40-minute mark. That try made a massive difference. Being 14 points down at half-time would have been really tough to turn around, but that five points was huge in the grand scheme of things.

All week a lot of the national rugby talk has surrounded the Ireland game against New Zealand, and for sure I'd love to be involved. It was tough to miss the cut for that one - you always want to challenge yourself against the best - but it is not something that I will be negative about either.

I can imagine how all the Munster lads over there are feeling, but for Billy Holland and Johnny Ryan to be in the thick of it is amazing. Neither of them have won a cap yet, but just the chance to be out there, to be involved in the squad must be a great buzz for them. The information will have been coming thick and fast at them, but whoever plays I wish them the best of luck.

Right now, the big thing for me and the rest of the lads is to help Munster to win again tonight against a quality Ospreys side, who have scored plenty of tries already this season. This will be a real test for us.

Like ourselves, they will be a little bit depleted due to the international games, so it will be interesting to see how both teams manage. But still they have some real seasoned guys there, they have great depth of talent at their disposal even with lads gone off to play for Wales.

But on weekends like this one, players have the chance to step up too, they will feel this is their chance. Some of our lads have been playing Munster 'A' and for their clubs in recent weeks, so they will have just as much game-time as us under their belts. They'll see this as their opportunity to stake a real claim.

Ospreys are a very good counter-attacking side, they are on top of a lot of the stats charts right now. Against a side like them your kicking game has to be on the money, but the kick itself is only one part of it: our kick-chase and the effort that's put into it is vital. They have full-backs and wingers that can dance out of tight channels, so for every one of us that plays, we need to be A1 in defence this week.

We have the small challenge of the New Zealand Maoris to come in a week's time, but I think we'll have it just as hard against the Ospreys tonight.

Stats-wise a lot of the lads did well in Belfast last weekend, so we are all keen to hit those marks again and sign off this batch of Pro12 games with another win at Irish Independent Park.

Irish Independent

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