Thursday 22 March 2018

All eyes turn to Ulster, but Treviso lessons need to be learned quickly

CJ Stander (left) and Donncha O’Callaghan celebrate moments before the final whistle of Munster’s hard-fought victory over Ulster in November
CJ Stander (left) and Donncha O’Callaghan celebrate moments before the final whistle of Munster’s hard-fought victory over Ulster in November

Duncan Casey

Three games and 15 points. That's a pretty decent return, isn't it? Fortunately we've managed to play ourselves into a position where a home semi-final is a real possibility.

We still need to travel to the cauldron that is Ravenhill next week and get a result if we want to turn that possibility into a reality.

Treviso as always proved to be very tricky opponents. Despite enjoying the lion's share of possession for the majority of the game, we managed to concede three tries and 19 points. This is unacceptable against any opposition, especially at home to a team that had very limited opportunity with ball in hand.

The weather was once again predictably unpredictable. We were aware of the forecast for heavy showers. Tommy O'Donnell, Felix Jones and I were struggling to fathom where these would come from as the sun penetrated the windows of the Maryborough Hotel at breakfast. It literally could not have been warmer.

I had visions of running around in the heat while a packed Irish Independent Park enjoyed the spectacle. Understandably the sporadic bursts of rain kept plenty of punters at home and the terraces were all but empty. Despite this, the atmosphere was top notch. Thankfully the weather held up for most of the game and didn't prevent us from moving the ball well.


Critical eyes were cast over the tries we conceded in the reviews during the week. We know all too well that gifting a team like Ulster the same opportunities will make life very difficult for ourselves next week. Anyone who saw them cut Leinster down last Friday will have been extremely impressed. In a very solid team performance, Iain Henderson stood out as being a particularly destructive force.

His explosiveness in attack combined with his aggression in defence mean he'll be a handful to deal with. The crowd in Belfast is unforgiving and it's vital that we do our best to silence them early on. One thing's for sure, we can't afford to crawl out of the traps like we did against them in Thomond Park.

We had a very productive week this week. On and off the pitch. In addition to the typically in-depth work we get through every week without a game, several social activities were enjoyed by the whole squad. We had the official team golf day in Adare Manor on Wednesday. I may be many things but a golfer is not one of them.

This didn't discourage me from taking part. I went out and hacked my way around (most of) the course before my patience, legs and resilience rapidly faded and I called it a day. I was part of a four-ball which was swiftly christened 'The Heavies' where I was joined by Damien Varley, Mike Sherry and big Dr Martin Kelly.

Despite finishing with the lowest combined score of the entire squad, some questionable numbers on the scorecards were highlighted by organiser Robin Copeland and we failed to get the recognition that we felt we deserved. Dave Kilcoyne (who genuinely fancies himself as a golfer) once again dragged the standard on the course down with his lack of both dress sense and ability.

Yesterday saw the annual awards lunch taking place. This was my first time attending the ceremony and I'm glad I finally got to experience it. The food, company and atmosphere were all excellent. It's only at events like this which are at the business end of the season that you begin to realise how little time you have left with those members of the squad that are moving on in June.

I've worked it out that between Munster schools, Munster A, Shannon and the Munster senior side I've been playing alongside Paddy Butler for nine years. The end of year dinner is always emotional and I'm not looking forward to this year's event in the slightest!

As for the weekend ahead, I'm sure many of you will be watching the Champions Cup final tomorrow. It promises to be quite an occasion and it's hard to argue that these two sides haven't been the best in Europe this year. Unfortunately, we felt the wrath of Clermont twice in December as they marched to the top of the pool.

I'll be cheering for The Vulcans. Stade Michelin and the Clermont fans have a huge reputation for passion. Our trip there before Christmas didn't disappoint in that regard. Clermont is comparable to Limerick in many ways: a small city full of people who are desperately proud of its rugby tradition.

It is often said that Munster is unique in rugby circles. This is absolutely true. Clermont is unique as well. It's for that reason that I'll be hoping Damien Chouly leads his men to victory in Twickenham. I'd be surprised if this ends up being a final to forget, so don't miss it!

I think history was made in Kildare on Wednesday. The second-row duo that lined out for Munster A against Ulster Ravens was John Madigan and Frank Bradshaw Ryan. At 6'8" and 6'9" and weighing 120kg and 116kg respectively, I'm going to go ahead and say that they are the largest two-some to pack down together in red. If someone can correct me, please do.

On a more sombre note, do spare a though for the victims of the earthquake in Nepal. As a mountaineer, my mother travelled there to climb on several occasions and could not speak more fondly of her time there. I made a donation to Concern and encourage everyone to give something, however small, to one of the many earthquake appeals.

Enjoy the Champions Cup final and enjoy the weekend!

Irish Independent

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