Wednesday 21 August 2019

It's a big chance for us to show our best form against Dragons tonight

Player Diary

Chris Cleote. Picture: Sportsfile
Chris Cleote. Picture: Sportsfile

Jack O'Donoghue

It's back to Cork and Irish Independent Park for us tonight and, from a personal point of view, I can't wait to get back in the team and get the chance to impress again.

After our win against Racing 92 in the Champions Cup, last weekend was a tough one in Galway as Connacht took a narrow victory, but we're hopeful of getting back to winning ways tonight against Dragons.

The review after the Connacht game was not as long as others in the past, mainly because a lot of the lads that played were up in Irish camp. There was not much point dwelling too much on the game with half of them not there. It was more of a case for us to identify a few things to work on in the coming week that we need to sharpen up on.

It wasn't too downbeat though. We played some good rugby, but the red card was a big factor in the game and it probably cost us in the end. You have to accept the referee's decision, take it on the chin and get on with it.

Despite defeat there was some positives to take - top of the list was our performance around the breakdown. We see Connacht as a real poaching side, they really go after the breakdown and they have some lads that are strong on the ground like Denis Buckley and Jarrad Butler.

Turnover But I don't think we conceded one turnover in the game which was a real positive. We went out to be as physical as we could and not give them a sniff there, and we did that.

One thing we came away with from the game was the need to play in the right areas. In the end we were trying to run it from the halfway line, when maybe a ball in behind their defence could have given us a lineout or maul opportunity inside their '22. Our attack and defence lineout ran pretty well, so maybe when we are chasing games in the future we have to remember that. The natural instinct is not to give away possession because you need to score, but maybe sticking to the game-plan would have been better. We felt we were in control for the first 70 minutes or so, it was only when we went a try behind that we lost ourselves a bit.

Their second try was a tough one for us, it was down to a system error on our part, but Tom Farrell ran a great line. Rassie and Jacques addressed it in our review and it has been noted. It would be different if we had played poorly and lost, but to be fair Connacht deserved their win. 

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From previous games we thought they might run a lot more from their '22, but they ended up kicking more than ever against us. They obviously identified our linespeed as something that would put them under pressure, and we had to adjust to that during the game. Spotting that will definitely help us down the line.

We might see something similar from Dragons tonight, so we have to be ready, but I'm really looking forward to it. The last four weeks have been frustrating, I haven't got much game-time in Europe and I think I probably missed out with Ireland as a result. I think not starting the big games is a factor in international selection - if you are not playing on the big day it's hard for the international coaches to pick you.

This time last year I wanted to cement my place in the match-day squad for the big games, but now my goal is to go one step further. Those goals keep me driven and focused on the task.

I am really buzzing about this game and I want to get a real good performance under my belt. I hope to build on what I was doing earlier in the season and really show the coaches that I'm in serious contention for a starting jersey. When the lads do come back from international duty I want to have given the coaches a headache.

But there is plenty of competition even with a few lads away with Ireland. We have yet to see much of Chris Cloete in training because he has been running the opposition plays, but as he says himself he's a fetcher. He's like a terrier; he gets down and dirty. I have no doubt he'll be an absolute nuisance at the breakdown - hopefully we'll see him make an early impact at the weekend.

Dragons certainly have an attacking mindset, Bernard Jackman is renowned for playing attacking rugby, and I'm sure they'll continue in that vein tonight. With the experience of Gavin Henson at 10 or 12, that's a real asset for them. He also has a rocket of a boot, so if the pressure comes on he can kick it over 50 metres. It will be a different challenge to what we have faced from them in recent years, but it should be exciting.

While it is disappointing to miss out on Ireland camp, it does give you a chance to get away for a few days. I'll definitely get home to Waterford and see my family and catch up with a few mates if they are around. It will be a relaxed and low-key week off after the Dragons game.

But tonight will be pretty intense before that. And there is the added fact that we all want to impress the new coach as well. I'm sure Johann will be reviewing these games before he arrives, and it's a chance for me to make an early impression. We were all introduced to him while he was in around the place. We have yet to talk rugby with him and we are not sure when he takes full control, but there is a natural break in the season now and this could be when it happens.

Consequently, it might be that tonight is the last time that Rassie and Jacques take charge of us for a game, and if that's the case we hope to send them off on a real high. I've really enjoyed working with the two of them and a win tonight would be a fitting send-off.

Irish Independent

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