Tuesday 24 October 2017

Every win is priceless in such a tight league

A dejected Tommy O’Donnell following defeat to Scarlets last weekend. Munster will hope to learn from the loss. Photo: Sportsfile
A dejected Tommy O’Donnell following defeat to Scarlets last weekend. Munster will hope to learn from the loss. Photo: Sportsfile

Niall O'Donovan

Having only lost three games all season, it is amazing to think that last weekend's loss to Scarlets has put us back down into third place, but it just goes to show how tight the Pro12 is this time round.

While we are disappointed to lose a game, we are not too worried that the run we were on has come to an end. As it turns out, it's a good job we had that kind of a record in the bag, such is the form of the other teams around the top.

We'd be well off the pace if we hadn't won a few of those really tight games in the last few months, which just goes to show the value of every point, every try and every win.

If you look at the rugby that teams like Ospreys, Leinster, Glasgow, Ulster and Scarlets are playing, it's plain to see the standard is through the roof this season. It's a really tight league with a lot of very good sides in it.

Every single game is competitive and there is still plenty of rugby to be played too. With six games to go, they'll all be competitive because every team is still fighting for something. People might say the Italian teams are off the pace, but they are still fighting against each other for that one European place. Everyone will be fighting right to the very end.

Last weekend we got caught out when we lost momentum midway through the game. We probably could have used the elements a bit more in the first half and could have picked up another couple of scores that would have put us out of reach, but that didn't happen and we left that window open for them to come back.

Once they got in for that first try the game swung their way for 15 or 20 minutes. Sometimes it is hard when a game goes like that, it can be tough to reverse it.

Fought

But in fairness to the lads they fought hard to the end, and went in search of another try that would have given us two bonus points. I like to see that trait in a team, but we fell short and we have to accept it.

We've won a few games in the last few minutes and they tried to pull this one out of the fire too, but it was a bridge too far. We made a few errors, some knock-ons and it just wasn't to be.

But we won't get too down on this loss, the same way we didn't get too high with the wins either. It's important to know that it was a league game and it's what happens this weekend is the important thing.

A positive aspect from the weekend was seeing such a young look to our match-day 23. Academy lads like Conor Oliver, Brian Scott, Fineen Wycherley and Dan Goggin were all included and they didn't look out of place. It is great to have them involved at this stage as it will stand to them and their progress through the Munster ranks.

No doubt a few of them again will be making the trip to Cardiff with us for tomorrow's game, and the Arms Park is a very different place to when I went there first.

The introduction of the synthetic grass was a big change, and for us it takes a bit of getting used to.

But every game is a challenge and this week all of our focus is on getting back to winning ways. It's important that we put in a full 80-minute performance and get a positive result from this weekend, which would be a great way to lead into a couple of weeks off.

I can't recall my first game in Cardiff, but it was always a difficult place since the game went professional.

When I coached Munster first back in '97 or '98, we had a few real tough games there, including European games.

There is a great tradition around the club, it is one of the great old clubs of Welsh rugby.

When you go into the clubhouse and you see all the photographs of all the legends that have played in all the great Cardiff teams, it reminds you of the stature of the club. That all added to the intimidation of playing there.

That is still there too. They are a formidable side. They beat us in Cork earlier this season, one of only two home losses that we have had this season, so we are very aware of the challenge ahead.

On an Ireland front, I'm sure the Munster lads that are away are pretty happy this week. I thought Ireland were great. You could see the French lads were bigger men, and for the first half an hour or so you'd expect that to take its toll. But Ireland ground them down and there wasn't a whole lot left in their tank come the second half.

I was really impressed, it was a real workmanlike display from Ireland and you'd be looking forward to the Welsh and English games down the line. It's good to see them playing well.

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