Friday 20 April 2018

Another frustrating weekend off but there's real intensity in training

Duncan Casey goes over to score a try for Munster during their hard-fought win over Edinburgh
Duncan Casey goes over to score a try for Munster during their hard-fought win over Edinburgh

We might have no game this weekend, but it hasn't meant any let up in our preparation for next weekend's game with Benetton Treviso at Irish Independent Park.

We've been hard at it all week and hopefully we can go on and take a third bonus-point win in a row.

The mood in the camp is buzzing at the minute. Everyone is happy with our form, they are delighted to see out points tally continue to climb, but most of all we're winning matches and back into the top two where we want to be.

Going away to Edinburgh last weekend and playing the way we did was a great boost to all of us involved in the squad.

We were pretty confident that if we managed to replicate the good things we did against Connacht and improve on a few other small issues, that we'd have what it takes to win in Murrayfield.

In the end up we did that, scored five tries and came away with five points.

As expected it took a little bit of time for us to break them down. Edinburgh are an excellent side - even since they beat us in the first week of the season they have improved quite a bit, so for us to play like we did in the second half was satisfying.


Like against Connacht, we came into our own after the restart and took most of the chances that came our way. But to get to that point there had to be quite a bit of hard slogging put in first.

In fairness I think we were a little bit inaccurate at times in the first quarter. Our handling let us down at times - I was as guilty as anyone in that regard - but once we sharpened up on that side of things we began to make positive yardage again.

The set-piece was a real battle ground. Led by Ross Ford, their front-row is a formidable unit and I think we broke even with them at least, despite some calls going against us.

But as a scrummaging team I think we had the better of them across the 80 minutes and that worked in our favour as the game opened out a bit.

As well as bagging a few tries - I think we are the league's top try scorers now - it is no harm to have worked ourselves ahead of Ulster in the points difference race. Before the game we were two or three points worse off than they were and sat in third place as a result, but fair play to Connacht, they kept it pretty tight against Ulster at the Sportsground and we have managed to open out a sizeable advantage in that department now.

I know we still have to play Ulster in a few weeks' time and that that game will probably decide who gets the home semi-final, but in the event that we are level on points and games won, like we are at the minute, it's no harm to have that bit of a cushion there.

Since I got back in the team after the injury it's been pretty strange to have the games so broken up. A weekend off again after one week on is not ideal, but it means that we have had loads of time to work on a few set plays and moves on the pitch.

There has been a good bit of live scrummaging going on in training too and with all of the lads back from the international camp, there is a real intensity and focus on the work we are doing.

But you still might only get four or five live scrums each in a session to impress, so lads are keen to show the coaches their best work. It means we are all on our toes and that we are all being challenged at every set in every session.

Because we have no game this weekend we'll have a relatively light few days.

I'll fit in a bit of weights and pool work just to keep things moving well, but at the back of all of our minds will be the Champions Cup semi-finals.

We all knew at the start of the season that we had a tough group, so to see the two teams that made it through from our side, Clermont and Saracens, playing off in the last four underlines that fact.

They are both excellent teams and I'm sure it'll be a cracking game. I'm not sure who I fancy - maybe Clermont have a bit more to offer with ball in hand, but Sarries are a serious set-piece team. It could end up being a 9-6 job, or if they cut loose either side could run in plenty of tries.

In the other semi, Leinster are going to have a real tough one away to Toulon. I know they call it a 'neutral venue' but it's a lot more of a home game for them to go to Marseilles than it is for Leinster. I hope they do the job, but it's going to be awful tough for them to beat that Toulon side out there.

But there is no point in us looking in and dreaming about what might have been.

We are right in the hunt for silverware in the Pro12 and if we can pick up a win next weekend in Cork it'll be a huge lift for our last four intentions.

After such a long season it's hard to believe that we have only three more league games left. It's a real long haul and the fact that we are just two points back from the leaders in second place tells us we have been pretty consistent all year long.

But we don't plan on parking our campaign at that. We are intent on getting to the semi-finals at this stage of the season. We are aiming for a home semi-final and we want to get into the decider in Belfast.

That game is on at the end of May, so hopefully none of us will be poolside until June at the earliest.

Irish Independent

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