Thursday 24 May 2018

Leinster PRO14 semi-final at the RDS will be the ultimate dog fight

Former Munster player Johne Murphy, Keith Earls and Andrew Conway visited the yard of Joseph O’Brien (second from right) in Piltown, Co Kilkenny, to see Apparition as part of Horse Racing Ireland’s ‘Experience it’ campaign which promotes racehorse ownership syndication.
Former Munster player Johne Murphy, Keith Earls and Andrew Conway visited the yard of Joseph O’Brien (second from right) in Piltown, Co Kilkenny, to see Apparition as part of Horse Racing Ireland’s ‘Experience it’ campaign which promotes racehorse ownership syndication.

Jack O’Donoghue

It was a bit of a grind in the end, but I don't think too many of us were complaining when the win was delivered against Edinburgh at Thomond Park. In knockout rugby, getting into the next round is all that matters.

In fairness to Edinburgh they are a very good team and they play a similar game to us and when two styles clash like that, sometimes it can turn into a battle of territory and possession.  

I thought we did play really well in patches though. We got out of the blocks really well and Rhys Marshall was sharp to get his try, but Edinburgh were always going to come with a purple patch and throw everything they had at us in the last 20 minutes.

There's a reason they are tied for the most wins this season so it was no shock that they really finished the game strongly and took us on in the last 20 minutes.

I don't know if people realised how tough it was out there and I know it wasn't the prettiest of games but credit to both sides going for it with everything at stake.

Credit to JJ Hanrahan too, he kicked convincingly all match, but we were happy when his last kick went over and he put us through to the semi-final.

Serious

I think it's fair to say that the recent game in Edinburgh was a serious wake-up call for us. Their threat around the breakdown and how hard they went at our maul was a real eye-opener. We knew we had to work on that leading up to the game and I think it worked. 

From a personal point of view I was pretty happy with my outing. It was a tough slog at the end, but to put in an 80-minute shift was satisfying, while I came away with double-digit tackles and a turnover at the breakdown. It was a good day but I still spotted plenty of work-ons when I looked back on the game. 

As a unit a few issues came up in the match review, especially the number of missed tackles that we had. The week before we had only ten against Ulster, but having more than three times that on Saturday was a concern.

Edinburgh are blessed with a massive back-three: Duhan van der Merwe needs a minimum of two people to take him down at a time, Dougie Fife and Blair Kinghorn are lethal too, while Bill Mata is a real tough one to tie down.

Our first-up tackling is something we'll have to work on ahead of the Leinster game. They're the team to beat at the moment; they're in a European final.

"We could be going to the RDS to face the Champions Cup winners. Whatever happens this weekend it will be a massive battle and we're going to have to hit new heights to get past them.

Last weekend was one of those games that you love being involved in, and I think playing in similar games lately has given me a new lease of life. You really feed off the buzz around the place and it does lift your game. Being a regular starter in the back-row is something I've targeted for a while, but once you get the taste of it you want it to continue.

But we are all on our toes. We know that no one is guaranteed 80 minutes or even a starting position. When Johann came in he told us he would pick the team on form and in fairness he has stuck to that and you have to admire him for that. It won't always go his way, but he's ready to take that on the chin.

After the win last Saturday it was nice to give the departing lads a winning send-off at home and we hung around well after the final whistle to give Zeebs (Simon Zebo), Copey (Robin Copeland) and GG (Gerbrandt Grobler) their chance to walk us off the pitch, and to enjoy the moment with the supporters.

They got a great reception as always and were happy to sign off with a win in Thomond Park.

After that we had a few days off and we didn't have to report back until Tuesday morning which was nice.

I went to Ed Sheeran with my girlfriend Olwyn. It was her birthday on Sunday so there was plenty to celebrate as we headed down to Cork. It was a brilliant day, the sun was shining and being able to enjoy a couple of days off in a row was a real bonus.

On returning to the HPC all focus has been on our preparation for Leinster and it is very exciting to have such a huge game to look forward to.

Not too many of us have played at the RDS and if I get the nod this will be my first game there. It must be seven or eight years since Munster played there. The only time I've been to the RDS was for the horse show, it will be a very different spectacle this time.

All the talk this week is about their Champions Cup final against Racing, and we'd love to be there too. They could be coming off a loss or they could be on a high bursting with confidence by the time they face us.

Either way, regardless of the result at the weekend, I think they'll come all guns blazing at us. Nobody has to get up for a Munster-Leinster derby game.

It'll be a guaranteed sell-out with a huge atmosphere and at the end of the day it's the league semi-final.

You won't see any second-string team regardless of their result and it will come down to the last couple of minutes. This will be the ultimate dog fight.

There is always the sideshow about players facing their direct rivals for Ireland shirts when we meet Leinster, and while getting on the plane for Australia is a personal aim, it is most definitely to the side.

If you think about individual battles it's easy to get distracted, so no one will be thinking about that come kick-off.

We've had a few disappointments as a team in the last couple of seasons, but I want to be part of a team that wins a trophy in the next few weeks. That's mine, and all of the squad's number-one goal.

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