Saturday 18 November 2017

Felix Jones: Effort levels have been huge in push for a trophy

Rassie Erasmus: Sportsfile
Rassie Erasmus: Sportsfile

Felix Jones

The challenges we face don't get any easier, but after a great win over Glasgow Warriors last weekend we are all excited about taking on Ulster in Thomond Park tomorrow.

It was a tight game in Cork, and it was massively physical as it has been for all four cases when we played them this season. And I think a lot of credit needs to go to the players for their hunger to fight until the end and finish the job. 

On previous times we have performed in the big games in the Champions Cup, then not always backed it up the following week, so it was really pleasing to see that the guys were physically able to get themselves in the right frame of mind for this one. 

I think it helped that we had faced Glasgow three times already this season, we knew what was coming and the level of intensity they brought was not a surprise to us.

It was really was a tight affair and the defensive solidity we showed at the end was really positive. But having said that, when you look back on the game there was a number of occasions that we probably should have scored a few more tries. We definitely created plenty of chances.

While there was a very strong defensive effort from us, we were dominant for long parts of the game in attack as well, but we just didn't get the return on the scoreboard and that's what allowed them stay in it. Credit to Glasgow, they put in a huge effort to get back in contention. Their season was riding on it, they were desperate to stay in the reckoning. They had to keep us at bay and they did.

I have to say Cork and Irish Independent Park was incredible again. It has been a long time since I have seen so many sold-out games, one after the other, in Cork and Limerick. That means so much to us. If you listen to the players' interviews afterwards, they all referenced it. It definitely makes a difference on the field when that support is behind you.

Fighting

Being so close to a semi-final is a good place to be, but we're not there yet. A lot of work has gone into the season so far. At this end of the campaign you want to be fighting, you want to be in the race to take a trophy. The lads have put the work in to give themselves an opportunity.

Looking back on the season, Jacques and Rassie have brought in a lot of different ways of thinking. They have introduced new ideas that I wasn't aware of, but that wouldn't be hard because it is my first year as a coach. But I'm sure it has been the same for the players too, who are always looking for fresh angles. Something different is always a pleasure and the guys have bought into the game-plan fully. For sure, there's still plenty of areas where we need to improve, but I think the most pleasing thing is that the effort level has been there from everyone.

Tomorrow we face an Ulster side that is playing a lot of really good rugby. They are definitely in form and are still in the hunt for a place in the top four, despite a couple of dropped points at home to Cardiff. It looked as if Cardiff were going to finish them off, but, full credit to Ulster, they fought back brilliantly and wouldn't accept defeat.

We are expecting similar levels of intensity this weekend, and with them not being in Europe any more they will be throwing everything at this game. It is going to be a really tough test for us.

We have had a number of games this season where we came from behind and edged it in the end. In Belfast, we were two tries behind early on, but to win it with a drop goal after a brilliant comeback was a great victory. It has happened a few times since then, but that was an absolute nail-biter.

We are expecting a very close game at the weekend. They are a top team, they are right in the chase and we expect nothing but a top-four display.

There is still so much rugby to be played this season, but the Ireland tour is something I am looking forward to in the summer. Hopefully I will be able to learn a lot from the other coaches. Seeing international rugby from the point of view of a coach will be interesting, so I am excited about taking in everything from the few weeks. Hopefully I will be a better coach after it.

Japan is somewhere I have never been before, and generally you don't end up seeing too much of the countries you tour, but it will still be an exciting trip. I'm really looking forward to the coming months.

Irish Independent

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