Sunday 19 November 2017

If we are not fully focused, Zebre could prove real minefield for us

Player Diary: Tommy O'Donnell

Tommy O’Donnell goes through his paces earlier this week
Tommy O’Donnell goes through his paces earlier this week

Tommy O'Donnell

It has been a quiet few weeks on the provincial front, but with the Six Nations done and dusted, and after Ireland's brilliant victory over England in the Aviva Stadium, it's back to the Pro12 now and we cannot wait.

A lot of the talk in Munster right now is about the upcoming Champions Cup quarter-final against Toulouse at the start of April. But as a group, the coaches and players, are completely focused on the task at hand - Zebre away from home tomorrow - and we will cross the Toulouse bridge when we come to it.

Internationally speaking, last weekend was another intriguing round of rugby in the Six Nations, and after Scotland put Italy to the sword earlier on last Saturday, I thought the France and Wales match was fascinating to watch.

It was very tough for English referee Wayne Barnes to manage it and I didn't think he deserved all of the flak he got after the game.

Barnes actually did quite well, in fairness to him. He didn't really make many wrong decisions when a referee could have caved under the pressure of the French crowd. Every decision he made justified the game going 100 minutes.

But it was just interesting to see, with all of the scrums, the breakdowns and the players coming on and off for injuries and yellow cards, the ball was only in play for about four minutes of the 20. France stuck with it though, and they got there in the end.

It was a very strange lead-in to the Ireland game, and then it was another roller-coaster ride. It was a great result, and Ireland nullified England's threats completely in that game. How many times were England in the Irish 22 in the first half?

Ireland put England under pressure. With the Grand Slam at stake, the pressure was all on Eddie Jones' side, and they were the obvious favourites after the way they performed in the previous round with a 61-21 thumping of Scotland.

But, as you can see, in the Six Nations it's quite hard to win away from home.

Ireland went to Edinburgh and were beaten, and lost in Cardiff. Ireland have a great record at home too, and are very intimidating to come and play against in the Aviva Stadium.

The excitement has started to build again now in Munster, with those Irish guys coming back, and we are back to full-blown provincial rugby this weekend over in Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi against Zebre.

The Six Nations is done with, and it's great to have the numbers in the changing room up again. This year having so many players up in Irish camp, it left smaller numbers back in Munster but we did great, and it's good to have the added leadership coming back in.

I know the guys had a tough Six Nations campaign, but a good few of them will have the weekend off now and they will come back in, re-energised ahead of the Champions Cup game against Toulouse at Thomond Park.

It's great around UL at the moment. The lads are fresh off the B&I Cup win, and a few of the other lads had a nice ten-day break and came back into training on Monday. Everyone was hopping off the ground, and the attitudes and the vibes are really good too.

You could fall into the trap of thinking about Toulouse already, but we still have to secure a home semi-final in the Pro12 and that's our only objective this week.

That's crucial for what it's worth to the Munster fans, and with regards to home field advantage in the final four of any competition.

If you go to Parma this weekend thinking of Toulouse, Zebre are the kind of team that can catch you on the hop.

They thrive on being the underdogs and would snap up any opportunity like that. They are a really good offloading team and if they are in with a shout, with 20 minutes to go, can become a very tough team to play against.

You want to go over there with a good physical game, and that's how we have prepared all week long in training. You cannot go to Zebre thinking you are going to score points, it would be disrespectful. We must have the right mindset, and you have to earn your win over there.

Zebre are a really good team from broken play. Watching their video on Monday, they are good at breaks and making something out of nothing.

We will be more successful against them if we can maintain possession and bring them into scrums and lineouts. I see us looking to put a bit more structure on the game over there.

To get the big honours you have to take it week by week. There aren't many games left in the season, so you have to take it every game as it comes. You don't know what might happen with the players in the squad. You hope no one gets injured but you just never know what might happen.

Destiny

We just need to focus on every challenge as it comes to us. If you do that you will find yourself in control of your own destiny, and challenging for the big honours when they come around at the business end of the season towards the end of next month and into May hopefully.

The Ireland summer tour is there as well, but that is well parked for now. Inclusion will be based on the form of players later in the season too and decisions will also be based on what players Warren Gatland decides to bring on the British & Irish Lions tour, so I don't think anybody will be thinking about it until closer to the end of the season.

For now, it's all about our Pro12 game this weekend, and we relish the opportunity to get back out as a unit in Parma tomorrow. Zebre will be a tough proposition but we hope we can get another win to put pressure on Leinster and Ospreys at the top of the standings. Things start to get very exciting at this time of the season.

Irish Independent

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