Saturday 20 October 2018

Everything we've done of late has been building for this one

Player Diary: Jack O’Donoghue

Munster players leave the pitch after victory over the Toyota Cheetahs. Photo: Sportsfile
Munster players leave the pitch after victory over the Toyota Cheetahs. Photo: Sportsfile

I've yet to play in a Champions Cup semi-final and haven't started a game in France, so I'm hopeful the ankle comes right and that everything goes to plan for Sunday.

The last few weeks have been a great time to be involved with the squad. The win against Toulon at Thomond Park was an incredible occasion and to immediately follow it with a two-week tour of South Africa was another boost.

With the sun on our backs, a couple of wins in the bag, and home advantage in the Guinness PRO14 quarter-final secured, we're all on a high but we are also fully aware of how quickly things can change!

Unfortunately, I picked up a knock on my ankle towards the end of the Cheetahs game, which was not ideal, but it's feeling good this week. I've been looking after it and rehabbing it all week to ensure I'm ready to get on the plane for Bordeaux.

That really was the only downside from the trip to South Africa. We flew into Cape Town and that's where we were based for the most part.

Giddy We were training out of an old Western Province pitch, which was ideal and then we commuted to the games in George and Bloemfontein.

Cape Town was lovely and there's plenty to do around there. Starved of the sunshine for so long, we were probably a bit giddy to start off with, but once we got the boots on it was down to business for us. Due to travel and settling in, we only trained one day before we were went up to George to play Southern Kings, but once we got to CJ's home town we put in some really good work.

The lads probably didn't start the best against Southern Kings but they recovered, we won and we got the bonus point as well. Five points out of any game is always positive.

Once back in Cape Town, Jean Kleyn stepped up and organised a boat trip for us. We went out on a lovely catamaran for a few hours. JK is from the region so he knew where was good to go, and on his recommendation a few of us went up Table Mountain before a trip to Camps Bay for some lunch and a recovery swim. As down days go, it was right up there, so we all were ready for training and the trip up to Bloemfontein on Thursday.

We were all delighted to bump into Aled Walters and Jacques Nienaber who came out to training one day. It was great to see them and have a chat with them. I'm sure it's a big change for Aled after his move to South Africa, but he has a beautiful apartment on the waterfront, and the weather is good too which is a real plus. Work-wise, I don't think they've been able to do too much with the national team yet. I'm sure he's looking forward to seeing what they can do too. The game itself was really tight against Cheetahs, but I thought we did really well to take the win after the bad start. Conor's penalty was some kick to win it, but I think everyone could be happy to take the four points from a real tough clash.

It seemed like a month had passed, but we got back in last Sunday afternoon and I saw the physios and started rehabbing my ankle on Monday. I did the same on Tuesday as well, and ramped it up a bit, but it has been all about taking care of it and minding it to make sure I'm right for the weekend. If I'm called upon I want to be in the best position to perform. Johann laid down a marker after the Toulon game and told us that this was what we were preparing for. Everything we did in South Africa had one eye on this game.

This will be our third meeting with Racing this season, so of all the teams we've played all year we're most familiar with them. They have quality players, but they're all so big and physical too.

It's going to be a massive battle up front against that pack, but look at their back three players too, they're scoring tries from anywhere on the pitch. They can have these magical moments that win games.

The last time we played them in the U Arena it was like Test match rugby and that's what we're expecting again at the weekend. We're going to have to physically front up and do everything we can to try and beat them.

Bordeaux will be a new experience for me and a lot of the lads. They have a new stadium in the town, but we're playing in the old one, Stade Chaban-Delmas, which is like a Colosseum. Chris Farrell has been telling us about it, the approach through the long tunnel and the atmosphere.

It will be incredible come kick-off, and considering we had a massive support in South Africa I can only imagine how much support we'll have over in France. We can't wait.

Irish Independent

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