Monday 18 November 2019

Everyone wants to make the cut for a defining game in our season

Player Diary: Jack O’Donoghue

Rory Scannell and Andrew Conway have been trying their best to get back to full fitness. Photo: Sportsfile
Rory Scannell and Andrew Conway have been trying their best to get back to full fitness. Photo: Sportsfile Sportsdesk

The last week has been really tough for all of the squad as we waited to hear if we were in the 23 for tomorrow's huge game with Toulon, and with so much up for grabs everyone has had that sick feeling in their stomach waiting for the call.

I'm sure it was just as difficult for the coaches to decide on their selection. Injuries are always tough on a squad, but I'm sure a few of us that thought we might not be involved started to dream of getting the shout. We all want to be there, but whoever makes the cut will be there representing all of us.

With the international lads away on Six Nations duty we have had a good few strong performances in the last few weeks, but the Irish lads have brought an air of confidence back into the squad this week.

On the flip side we've had Simon Zebo, Andy Conway and Rory Scannell trying their best to be fit for the game, while we all know how tough it is to be injured when the big games come round.


With that in mind we all feel for Tommy (O'Donnell) and Tyler (Bleyendaal) in particular this week. Both of them worked so hard to get back to full fitness in time for the run-in, but they have both picked up injuries again.

Tommy is one of a handful of lads who were playing in the semi-final against Toulon back in 2014 and his experience is going to be a huge loss for us. He was playing so well last weekend against Scarlets and that work-rate he has around the pitch is going to be missed for sure.

But that's the nature of the game and I suppose an injury like that is an opportunity for someone to step up now and take their chance. The back-row is an area that we have good strength in too, with myself, Robin Copeland, Dave O'Callaghan and Conor Oliver vying for the start. I was happy with how I went when I switched from 6 to 7 over the weekend, but whoever gets the shout will do a great job.

As it turned out, that game was a pretty good preparation for facing Toulon. I think the first 10 or 15 minutes of the game Scarlets really attacked us and they came at us with everything. They scored one try and if we're honest it could have been more, but behind the posts we knew that all 15 of us had to step it up - otherwise it was going to be a long day.

The plan was to bring a different kind of defensive strategy. If you bring big line-speed when you play a team that goes wide, they're going to beat you nine times out of ten. To manage we had to try and come up and put pressure on while shifting on to the next man. You nearly had two defensive jobs to do at the same time, but it worked well. We began to keep the ball for a few phases and worked ourselves into the game, and James Hart's try before half-time really settled us. It turned into a good win for us.

But we didn't dwell too long on Scarlets this week: it's all about Toulon and how we are going to play against them. I saw most of their game on Sunday against Clermont and they were really impressive. Clermont are one of the best and most powerful teams in Europe and to put that kind of score on them is certainly impressive.

Right throughout their side they are packed with quality players, and they have so much talent it's nearly a waste of time guessing who they'll play. You just know it's going to be a real challenge. In the back-row you'd imagine we'll see Facundo Isa and Duane Vermeulen - who is very similar to CJ - so that should be a good battle.

I was only in my second year in the Munster Academy for that 2014 game so I was not involved, but I remembered the build-up and the excitement that surrounded the game. Midway through the second half Munster were right in the game and I'm sure it will come down to something similar this week. Fine margins will separate the sides.

We'll have the chance to play in front of a sold-out Thomond Park and I know for a fact the crowd will turn up and get behind us 100 per cent. This is a massive day for the club and could be a defining game in the season.

We've heard that Toulon sent back some of their ticket allocation during the week and I think they were snapped up pretty quickly by the Munster supporters. I think a lot of them had been on to friends in France trying to get their hands on tickets anyway, so our 16th man will certainly be there for us, and needed, again.

As a member of the Munster squad, I can't wait for the game, and I'm sure it's exactly the same for the supporters as well. Hopefully we'll have another semi-final to talk about in a couple of weeks' time.

Irish Independent

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