Friday 19 January 2018

Everyone wants to be involved for this one and I'm desperate to play

Player Diary: Jack O'Donoghue

Donnacha Ryan and Duncan Williams cross codes during training. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Donnacha Ryan and Duncan Williams cross codes during training. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Jack O'Donoghue

Much like the week leading into the Saracens semi-final, there has been plenty of excitement around the squad in the last couple of weeks.

Tomorrow's Guinness Pro12 semi-final against Ospreys at Thomond Park will be a massive occasion, and everyone that's fit has been fighting hard to make the cut. We all want to play our part and help us into the decider.

After we finished up against Connacht we were off then until the following Wednesday. It was nice to have that extended weekend to relax, let the body find its feet again. But we were back in on Wednesday and had some pretty intense sessions until the weekend. Much of this week's workload was handled in those three days.

A lot of us had heavy legs by Friday because they were pretty tense, sharp sessions. We always front-load our weeks anyway, but the extra few days meant we could push that out a bit further and then work a bit more on the finer, technical points ahead of the Ospreys game.

This week we still had plenty of sessions but they were short and sharp. We are all well up on our roles at this stage of the season, but we ran plenty of plays to make sure everyone had it nailed. We all got a run doing the opposition plays as well as our own. Hopefully, that extra work will pay dividends.


That bit of disappointment of missing out on the match-day squad for the European semi-finals has given me a bit of a kick, and it has made me work as hard as I can to not let that happen again. Since then that has really driven me against Treviso and Connacht.

Personally, the Connacht match was good for me, but overall as a team it was a brilliant display. Yes, it was an inter-pro, but it was also a dead rubber for us, so there was the worry that we'd go out there and wouldn't perform. But Rassie had us in the right frame of mind to go out and play well. In the end we were ruthless and we didn't leave anything to chance.

The try was a nice personal achievement, but overall I was happy with my performance. Playing that bit at 7 last season has definitely helped me when I did a lot of work with Axel and Ian Costello in and around the breakdown. This year Jacques expects us to be able to tackle and then reload to put extra pressure on that breakdown, and make it as messy as possible for our opponents.

If you can make that tackle and get back to your feet to challenge at the breakdown, you are not shortening the defensive line, but you are still adding a lot to that ruck and giving the rest of the lads time to set the defence. Jacques is a big fan of that and it is something that you'll see from our forwards as they try to add another string to their bow.

Since I wasn't involved for the Sarries game I definitely want to be involved with this one. It's another huge semi-final, it's at home and it'll be a great crowd. The last time we were in a Pro12 semi-final was also against Ospreys and it literally went down to the wire. They got the try they needed to take the win but thanks to the TMO it got called back due to a forward pass. That's how close it can be and that's what it could come down to again.

The result when we played them at Irish Independent Park earlier this season doesn't really reflect the quality team they are. When we went over to play them at the Liberty Stadium I think we saw a more realistic view of them - even though that wasn't their best team either. They were without a few of their internationals that day too, and it was a really tough game. They'll come to Thomond Park with all guns blazing and they will really put it up to us.

They have four Lions in their squad - Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb, Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric - which is more than what we have, and they will be their stand-out players as usual I'd say. It will be hugely physical up front with their pack, but they also have a really strong kicking game with both Biggar and Davies on the pitch. We'll have to execute our plan to neutralise them and try and get ourselves on the front foot.

It would be absolutely massive to make the final. With the rollercoaster season we've had, coming from last season's struggles, the loss of Axel towards the end of last year, it would be huge to be able to do it for him. I'm sure if he is looking down on us he'd be proud to see us there and achieving that would be a huge thing for us. It'd be a lovely touch to finish off the season that way.

Seeing the Champions Cup player of the year award named after Axel was pretty special last week. For it to be named after him and that it will be presented for the next few years is great. To have that on your mantelpiece someday would be something special and that will be a driving force for all of us to achieve. Some of the lads were close this year, but with the season Owen Farrell had for Sarries it was well deserved.

I was delighted to find out on Monday evening that I had been called up for the Ireland summer tour to America and Japan, and it is already something that I am really looking forward to. It is a good chance for me to show Joe Schmidt and his coaches what I can do again.

I've never been to Japan before and I'm sure it will be a great tour, but there is still lots of rugby to be played before then.

Right now my mind is fully focused on doing my job right tomorrow if I'm selected. I'm happy with my preparation and I think if we all perform the way we want to, we'll be in with a great chance of making the final.

Irish Independent

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