Wednesday 23 January 2019

Galling defeat in Belfast makes it vital to get derby win this weekend

Tyler Bleyendaal keeps his eyes on the ball during Munster training
Tyler Bleyendaal keeps his eyes on the ball during Munster training

Player Diary: Jack O’Donoghue

Looking back at the last couple of weeks, rugby-wise it has been quite a disappointing Christmas, with two losses from the two inter-pros. Losing to Leinster and Ulster is tough going and the fact we have yet to win an inter-pro this season puts extra value on tomorrow's clash with Connacht at Thomond Park.

In truth, we were all in a bit of shock after the Ulster game. We couldn't believe we left the win behind us. It was a very, very tough one to take.

We did everything right for 40 minutes. Our game management was brilliant, we stuck to our game-plan, up front we went at them and it showed. We got three tries from the forwards, two from a maul and a penalty try from a scrum. We really asserted our dominance in that first half and we executed perfectly.

Coming out in the second half the game completely turned on its head. We did lose a few key players and there were a lot of rotations between the injuries and cards, but that's the nature of sport.

Managing the changes and that period of disruption is probably what I felt cost us, as well as our discipline.

Personally, I was really happy with my first half. I thought I worked well with Chris Cloete and Tommy O'Donnell. Chris is an out-and-out 7, but Tommy adapted really well to 6. I thought he put in a great performance until he went off with the injury.

Unstructured It probably helped us that the game wasn't too unstructured: we mauled and scrummed quite a bit so it was easier for us to get into the game by keeping it tight.

Darren O'Shea took over calling the lineouts when Billy (Holland) went off and he did very well and helped us to that half-time lead. There was one key lineout that went over the top in the second half when we were close to their line at the time and we let that opportunity slip.

I think that could have been a big point in the game had we secured possession and potentially come away with some points. It would have given us control again, but instead we had to defend for nearly 40 minutes.

Ulster just threw everything they had at us. I looked at the clock after John Cooney's try was disallowed, and 51 minutes was gone. I thought we had them then; that they had thrown everything at us and I thought we'd kick on with that penalty, but it didn't happen. 

Unfortunately, our discipline let us down again. We lost Fineen (Wychereley) to a yellow and then to lose Sam (Arnold) to the red at the same time was really tough. It's hard going playing with 14 men, but 13 is extra tough and when you see where their tries came from, it had a big effect on the game.

But nobody pointed the finger at the lads either. Anyone can be sin-binned at the breakdown and the sending-off was very unfortunate. Sam was devastated after the game. No one thinks it was his fault.

He made a great read on Lealiifano, but after he hit the ball the tackle slipped up to neck level. There was no malice and no intent - it was one of those unfortunate ones. But you have to get on with these things when they happen in a game: we had enough of a lead to protect, but we didn't deliver.

When you look at it we had only conceded three penalties in the first half but still ended up with a total of 14. Eleven penalties in 40 minutes is very poor from us and ultimately that's what cost us. All week long we had spoken about the importance of discipline. Away from home you have to be immaculate and a return like that never had us in the right place to win.

When we looked at the game there was no real individual at fault. There was a couple of game management issues. At one stage we restarted and had a scrum advantage from a knock-on, but we kicked away possession; had we come back and taken the scrum, when it was going well, we could have earned yardage and held on to the ball. Maybe even we could have won another penalty and kicked three points. We just lost control and Ulster ran the second half.

And you rarely get away with not scoring at all in a half against any team, but away from home against a quality side like Ulster, it's not good enough. 

We have identified a few key parts of our game to improve for tomorrow, but we know what sort of a performance we'll have to produce to beat Connacht. The game in the Sportsground was not a pleasant one for us, so with home advantage this time there is plenty riding on this game.

Where we are sitting in the Guinness PRO14 table, we need to get back to winning ways, and with Europe just around the corner and Racing 92 and Castres to come, we need to be back in form quickly. This game is crucial for everyone involved.

We were outplayed in Galway and we will really look to gain some sort of learning from that. And we have a good few things to put right after Ulster. We'll look to put that 40 minutes into an 80-minute display against Connacht.

But they are in form too. They did a number on Ulster and put it up to Leinster all the way at the RDS. They are a quality side and are obviously finding their feet under a new coach.

There will be nothing easy with this - it will be another huge game with four massive points up for grabs. We will see changes to the team I'm sure, but whoever gets one of the 23 shirts, we'll have to deliver from start to finish.

Even though we've turned a new year my resolutions tend to run parallel with the rugby calendar, but my aims remain solid. I'm keen to produce good performances consistently and I'll see where that takes me as the months unfold.

Irish Independent

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