Wednesday 22 November 2017

It will be an exciting weekend all round, but victory in Cork is vital

Player Diary

CJ Stander and his team-mates have their sights firmly set on victory tonight. Photo: Sportsfile
CJ Stander and his team-mates have their sights firmly set on victory tonight. Photo: Sportsfile

Jack O'Donoghue

With a defeat in the Guinness PRO12 final to stew on over the summer, the break from rugby wasn't quite as satisfying as it should have been, but now that we're all back together, we're hungry to get off to a good start tonight in Cork.

While provincial action finished up almost three months ago, being away on my first proper tour with Ireland in USA and Japan meant I had a shorter break than others. It was a great experience to be in and around the squad for three weeks and I think that time will stand to me whenever I get called up next. 

Having that time in there with the players and coaches, you start to see how they think and operate, and what they expect within the game. It'll take a bit of the pressure off me and I'm sure the calls will come a bit more natural from now on. 

Last season it was a goal of mine to make the summer tour, so I was happy to be able to tick that off the list. While I'd love to have forced my way into the starting team, this season is all about fresh starts. I have already sat down and laid out a few new goals for myself, so I'm looking forward to getting stuck in again.

Exciting After the tour I had about four weeks off, so as soon as we got back, I went off to Singapore for a few days with the Scannell brothers. That was an exciting trip to see that side of the world. It's not somewhere I'd ever get the chance to tour through rugby I'd say, so when the boys were going out to visit a friend, I said I'd tag along.

After Singapore I had ten days back home in Waterford, and then I went to Majorca with my girlfriend, Olwyn, which was a nice relaxing week in the sun. It meant that I came back refreshed and energised, and I was looking forward to getting back to things. But day one of pre-season soon quenched that enthusiasm, and all I wanted to do was get back on a plane anywhere. It was fierce.

Unlike some people, when I'm not doing my gym work I tend to lose weight, so it's important for me as a back-row to keep in shape. The S&C guys know that and they had given me the heads-up and a target to aim for. They wanted me back at around the 107kg mark, but after some hard work when I was back home, I was 108 when I got back and have crept near 110kg since the start of pre-season. Once the tough games start it will be hard to maintain that weight, but I'd be happy to hold those numbers for a while.

Although I had a shorter pre-season than most of the internationals, I still played in last week's game against Worcester, which means I am ready to feature this weekend too. All the little niggles that were there at the end of last season are gone, I'm fresh, the body feels good and now match fitness is the important thing.

There is no comparison to pre-season fitness and being match-sharp, so I found the last 20 minutes against Worcester were tough on the lungs. But I got through the full 80 minutes, which will really stand to me this weekend against Treviso.

While there was a small bit of uncertainty when news of Rassie's departure filtered through, he has very much been to the fore in pre-season. Felix (Jones) and Jerry (Flannery) have stepped up to the plate too, but a lot of the players will feel that they have a responsibility to play a bigger role this year. The more experienced lads will be helping the younger players through the transition period.

Whenever it happens remains to be seen, and as long as Rassie (Erasmus) and Jacques (Nienaber) are here we'll have to perform, but even for ourselves we have a job to do to be in contention for silverware at the end of the season. That quest starts now, regardless of what will happen later on. With every new season comes fresh faces, and the new signings have been great around the place, they have really gelled in and are getting on well with the boys. Gerbrant Grobler - or GG as he has been creatively tagged - is a good guy, and his bulk will add to our power at set-piece, while Chris Cloete, Chris Farrell, JJ (Hanrahan) and James Hart will be big players for us.

With Treviso up first we know it's a game we are expected to win, but first up they will pose a tough opponent. Two seasons ago we had them in week one and we struggled at times, but that's always the hardest game, when you have no footage to work on. We'll have a good look at the team they name, but if we focus on ourselves we're confident of victory.

Thankfully, our game is not on Sunday, and I'll be able to make the trip to Croke Park to shout on Waterford against Galway in the hurling. I have my ticket secured, but just being back home in the last few weeks, it's clear to see how match fever has taken hold. The county is awash with blue and white flags

I played with and against a lot of the lads over the years and I know the work they have put in to get to this point.

Who wouldn't like to be running out at Croke Park on All-Ireland final day, but I don't know if I'd be up to those standards.

It was fine underage when you are bigger than most lads, but the game is so quick now, I'm not sure if I'd be anywhere near able for it.

Over the years we have been unlucky not to have more silverware to celebrate, but this is a massive chance for the boys this weekend. I really hope they do the business on Sunday.

They have bought in to what Derek McGrath wants them to do and they believe in their game. 

This is their chance and everyone in the county is behind them. I strongly believe they have a very good chance of beating Galway.

Irish Independent

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