A victory but our discipline wasn't good enough and has to improve
For a long time we have been saying that Italy is a tough place to go and play and after another tricky outing against Zebre that argument has been backed up once again.
We came home with a bonus-point victory, but as a result of shocking ill-discipline at times, we conceded three tries and were fortunate that we managed to close out the game fairly comfortably.
On the field it is always difficult in Parma, but even getting there in the first place can be really tough. On a typical trip you're up in Dublin on a Friday night to fly out early on Saturday morning and then you have an hour and a half bus journey ahead of you when you arrive in Italy.
Effectively, you can be three days travelling over the course of the weekend, and when you do that a couple of times it can get tiring. In the end you have a lot of respect for the Italian lads who travel every second weekend. I don't know how they do it. They really do put in a serious shift in terms of the miles they clock up and often that can be forgotten.
Normally when you get to Parma the sun is shining and you can get out and get a coffee somewhere nice. It's a lovely city and it's a great place to spend some time, but this time it wasn't as pleasant as usual - it was damp and freezing, so there was no al fresco dining for us.
enjoyable A few years ago we went over and we played both Treviso and Zebre in one week and that was a great trip. That was really, really enjoyable from a team-building point of view.
But this was a good weekend too mainly because there was a lot of young fellas over with us. I wouldn't know too many of the new lads too well so it was nice to spend a bit of time with them. You get to have a chat and find out a few things about them, and that always helps when you're lining out together.
For those lads it was a huge weekend. If you go through the back line in particular, guys like James Hart made his first start and scored a first try; Jack Stafford got his first cap; Sam Arnold got his first start in well over a year and had a great game; and Calvin Nash came off the bench. Those are great achievements for the young lads.
Then if you go through the replacements, I reckon it is one of the youngest benches ever put out by Munster Rugby. Kevin O'Byrne is 26 and was the old man; Darren O'Shea and Brian Scott are around 24, while Bill Johnston, Sean O'Connor, Ciaran Parker, Calvin Nash, Jack Stafford are all around 20 or 21. So to come away with a convincing win is a huge thing for those lads.
Around this time of the year lads tend to get the chance to impress due to the autumn internationals and the Six Nations. It was a big deal for me when I was breaking into the squad and I'm sure it's the same for them. Lads have been playing 'A' games, so seeing if they can step up to the next level is a big thing.
They have to get a grip with the calls during the week, show the coaches what they're made of and also show the experienced players what they can do. You hear so much about these young lads coming through but you don't get the chance to see them, so to play with them is really enjoyable.
While there were lots of positives from the game, there is also a lot of things that we need to scrub up on after it too. Unfortunately, it was our ill-discipline that almost cost us again. Our penalty count has cost us two or three times this season, but to go down to 13 men and give away multiple penalties just gave them a way back into the game when we were 17-0 ahead.
Penalties give a team easy access into your own 22 and allows your opponent to build pressure. I put those two tries and them coming back into the game down to nothing other than poor discipline from our team, which isn't good enough. It had nothing to do with defence or how we were looking after the ball or anything like that. It was purely bad discipline and it's not good enough.
I think half-time came at the right time for us to be fair. With had two in the sin-bin, we had 13 men for the first minute in the second half and we then treated the second period as if the score was nil-all.
We managed to work our way to the bonus point, but after that we let them in for another try after we gave away three penalties in a row that allowed them to go from their line to ours and they then scored a try.
Once we corrected the penalty problem there was plenty to be proud of. We kicked well, we scrummed and mauled well and we were quite direct. Any time you win away from home it's a positive.
But guys need to realise that ill-discipline is going to cost us games. It cost us points on the scoreboard in Italy, but against the league's top teams it will cost us matches. We have some huge games coming up so that has to be cracked down on immediately.
And that has to start this weekend against Ospreys. I looked at their team against Glasgow last weekend and there is a lot of names that you'd recognise in there despite them being weakened by the international window. They have had a couple of disappointing results in recent weeks but I think most neutral rugby supporters would know more of their team that ours at the moment.
As a result of those losses they will be desperate for the four points this weekend. They are at the wrong end of the table from where they are used to being so they will be hurting badly. They'll look at us and reckon they can put one over on us so it's another huge game in our season.
But the first step for us is improved discipline. It has to be better.
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