Saturday 21 July 2018

Our season could be over if we don't perform against quality side

Darren Sweetnam being tackled by Ulster’s Johnny McPhillips and Stuart McCloskey last weekend. Photo: Sportsfile
Darren Sweetnam being tackled by Ulster’s Johnny McPhillips and Stuart McCloskey last weekend. Photo: Sportsfile

Billy Holland

It's hard to get your head around the fact that this could be our last week of the season if we don't perform tomorrow against Edinburgh.

We could be on our summer holidays on Monday, which is a frightening thought. It feels like there is a good few weeks to go yet in the season and obviously that's the aim, but we have got to understand too that it all could be over in 24 hours.

That so much is riding on this game, and that's how serious we are taking the challenge.

Not being involved for the Ulster game meant that personally it was a tough week, and I still find it tough when you look back on the Racing game. I was incredibly frustrated with some of the things that happened, and then not getting to go out last weekend to try and rectify them made it even harder again. 

There were a few harsh lessons from Bordeaux. We have to learn that you can't concede three tries like that in the first 20 minutes, but even so, I feel we could have won if we had scored before half-time or early in the second half.

We had the opportunities to win the game and that makes it even harder to swallow. 

Last year in the semi-final against Saracens I felt they were a much better team than us, and I think we've progressed massively. If we played to our potential I think we would have beaten Racing - hence the frustration.

stewing While I was stewing in the stands last weekend, I suppose my body and mind welcomed the rest all the same.

It gave us the opportunity to do some extra gym work and get some speed and conditioning sessions in. I felt great training on Monday and physically refreshed after the down week. 

Thankfully, I haven't experienced being out of the 23 too often this year but I was in six or seven boxes before the game doing Q&A sessions and raffles. It's always great to go out and meet the sponsors and supporters, but I think everyone understands when I say I'd prefer to be playing rugby when the whistle blows.

It was a bit of a mixed bag as a game. You had a desperate Ulster side looking to get a win and despite that, I think we started well, but we slacked off for 20 minutes before half-time and they got two quick tries which put them into a good position.

I think the lads showed great character to come back in the second half and were probably a little bit frustrated not to finish it off. There was a better intensity in the second half, right across the board, where everyone was on point.

We had some opportunities where we could have scored another try but we ended up defending our line for the last five minutes. You have to say we're happy to get the draw after that.

There was a lot of young fellas playing, and guys put their hands up and were counted; fellas that wouldn't have played against Racing in the previous week did well so that's good for the squad and competition.

On the down side, I think that's the first try off a maul that we've conceded all season if my memory serves me right. It's something that we pride ourselves on. We have conceded tries when moves have developed off mauls but not directly from one, so to be breached twice was a bit frustrating.

It just means that Edinburgh will look at us and say we're vulnerable in maul defence. That's something we needed to rectify immediately.

Edinburgh are a very good pack, they're very good on maul attack and maul defence, and it's something we will definitely see coming at us. It's very important that we get that right and don't give them any mental edge there.

Make no mistake, this is a huge challenge tomorrow. Edinburgh have won the most games in the Guinness PRO14 competition this season. They have won eight of their last nine games. That's a better record than Leinster and Glasgow so it's clear they are an excellent side.  

They do the basics extremely well: their scrum, maul and lineout are excellent. They have the most number of steals on the ground; they're very efficient in how they exit and kick, and have a real bite about them. They certainly reflect the traits of their head coach Richard Cockerill.

From our point of view, we like to think we know what's coming, but it will still be a challenge to stop them. We knew a lot of this about them before we played them in Murrayfield last month and we lost over there. They are just a very difficult team to play against.

They may not have many household names in their team but they are a well-coached, tight-knit unit. Cockerill has come to Limerick and won before with Leicester - he was coach when they became the first team to win in Europe at Thomond Park in 2007.

He won't be daunted by coming here this weekend either. Everything rides on this game.

Irish Independent

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