Friday 24 November 2017

Jack O'Donoghue Player Diary: Plenty to be happy with, but I still need to keep improving my game

Munster's Mario Sagario in action during squad training
Munster's Mario Sagario in action during squad training

Jack O'Donoghue

As table-toppers, with four wins from four games in the Pro12, there is little cause for complaint, but even still, both individually and as a team, there is plenty to improve on.

Last weekend was a pretty good result all considered. It's been a great start to the season from a team perspective, and from my point of view I'm delighted to have started all four games.

We could certainly pick holes in all four wins: two of those victories came in the last play of the game against Ospreys and Glasgow, but they are four-pointers at the end of the day. You'll take that any time, from any game.

Certainly, the bonus point against Cardiff last week was crucial because it just put us ahead of Scarlets and the rest of the teams ahead of this round of games.

Yet, despite the five tries, five points and moving to the top, there are still mixed emotions regarding last weekend. As a team we had some very good moments in attack, but on occasion we let ourselves down in defence and we needed to work on that for this weekend's game.

It was a mixed bag of a game for me though. I thought I went well in parts, but I had a few lapses in there too. No matter how many things you do right, it is the mistakes that stick with you through the whole week - they'll be at the back of your mind.


Early on I had an obvious missed tackle in midfield and they made a quick 20-metre burst down the field on the back of that. Those things are not good for your confidence when it comes early in the game. It's hard to put it our of your mind and I probably didn't have my best game as a result.

You would never be too happy with your overall performance when you have a couple of slip-ups like that. And it never makes for good watching in the review the next Monday or Tuesday, but you have to sit down with the coaches and they talk you through it.

You have to meet your mistakes head on, otherwise you'll keep repeating them consistently. That's not acceptable at the top level - they have to be eradicated.

So far this season I have been playing at openside flanker rather than my usual No 8 position. It's a real challenge, but I'm happy with the progress I've made to date. The coaches know that seven is a relatively new position for me and there are a few things that are gradually coming to my game.

But I still need to work very hard on the minute details that playing the position brings. Making a decision on what ruck to contest is key: do I go in after the ball and chase a turnover, or do I get back into the D line and add an extra body?

One of the Cardiff tries came from one such decision. There was an opportunity to turn over the ball. Personally, I thought I had the poach, but the referee didn't call it and I had to release.

Next thing I knew they had a five-on-three down the blindside and they scored a try from it. It's all about recognising those things on the run. It has to click in your mind when you stay and when you go.

There are many similarities in the two positions, but the breakdown work is the big difference. When you are in there you have to be destructive; you cannot be passive. If it takes two of them to stop you, you are doing your job right.

It needs to be messy for the opposition. It's all a mindset thing, you want to be powerful and explosive through the breakdown.

One master of the art is Peter O'Mahony and obviously it's a huge loss to the team not to have him to call on because of injury. He is such a great leader and player. We saw in that France game how dynamic and destructive he can be - he'll be a big loss for us. Hopefully he'll have a speedy recovery and will be back on the pitch soon enough.

As with any injury, it gives other guys a chance to impress and it's an opportunity for someone to increase the competition in the back-row in the long term. Having a spot available makes guys train harder in order to get into the reckoning. Game time is a priceless commodity for everyone.

Unfortunately, I'm not involved this weekend as I'm being rested after four starts. We all know it's a busy block and that every player will get a run at some stage.

It's better to take a rest when you can rather than being forced to rest after you take a knock or because of fatigue.

I spent the week doing my own training. I fitted in three gym sessions rather than the usual one on a match week. That is huge for me - I need regular top-ups to keep developing because I'm still young.

With a different training schedule I had more free time this week and I managed to get a bit more of my college work in the bank. I had a big lab to take care of, so the white coat and the goggles got a run-out, but in general, it is pretty flat out with assignments.

So having the chance to lighten next week's load is always welcome - there is nothing worse than letting the work build up.


While I won't be travelling with the boys today, I'll be tuned in to see how they go in Wales. It's a huge game, which is already a top-of-the-table clash. That's where you want to be: in control at the top.

Scarlets have been impressive so far. They are a great attacking team, they even showed that last year when we needed a late conversion to draw over there. With four wins to their name too they'll fancy their chances of a home win, so we'll have to be far more clinical this week.

Irish Independent

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