Monday 21 May 2018

Player Diary: Denis Hurley - Digging deep to beat Ulster just the tonic we need to kick on in Europe

Denis Hurley, Tomas O'Leary and Simon Zebo go through their stretching routines in training Photo:Sportsfile
Denis Hurley, Tomas O'Leary and Simon Zebo go through their stretching routines in training Photo:Sportsfile

Denis Hurley

On the home front it's been a busy few weeks for the Hurley household as my wife Nessa and I welcomed our first child over Christmas.

Emie-Rose was born on the Tuesday of Christmas week and our little girl's early arrival certainly kept myself and my wife occupied for the festive period!

They both got out of hospital in time for Christmas Day and it was fantastic to spend the holidays with a new face. It puts everything into perspective when you have your first child, and it has been an interesting and amazing few weeks.

On the pitch, I had a couple of appearances off the bench as we bounced back from a really disappointing defeat to Leinster to register a big win over Ulster at Kingspan Stadium.

It's not easy when you are under pressure and looking for a win away from home against a top-quality side like that. But we dogged out a great result and when the final whistle came it meant a lot to us all to be on the winning side of the scoreboard after a few tough weeks.

After five defeats in a row the win got the monkey off our backs and that will stand to us going forward. The mood has been better in training this week, it is a lot easier to arrive in and face everyone.


As always derby games are tight affairs, and more than others the Ulster and Munster clashes just bring out the best in both sides. From the last five encounters a total points difference of nine points has been the difference between the sides so there's never any let-up and it's always a battle.

Following on from the disappointment of the Leinster defeat at home in Thomond Park there was little expectation on us going there. Ulster were unbeaten in the league in Kingspan since May, had ended Connacht's home run, and had beaten Toulouse back to back so we were certainly up against it.

However, after being on the wrong side of a few results we showed great resolve on the day to grind out the win.

It was great to see Ian Keatley stepping up and taking the game by the scruff of the neck.

I was delighted for him. It took confidence to step into the pocket and slot a drop-goal that was crucial to the outcome. When those things go your way, you know you won't be far off the desired outcome.

Keats moved us ahead of Ulster and from there we put them under massive amounts of pressure, and that's difficult to cope with. We knew they are a side that like to get in front and strangle the opposition, so we probably beat them at their own game on this occasion.

I thought the pack laid the foundation for us. They did really well in defending the maul in the first half, and that overall defence saved us from a further score in the opening 40. Ulster would have been difficult to stop had they gone further clear.

The balance between our nine and ten was great too, but that was on the back of the physicality we brought to the game, and that kept us in it when things were tough out there on the pitch and we closed the game out well in the end.

Confidence was slightly low leading into that game; you get questions from all sides and then players would have started to question themselves.

But we showed what we can do. We can grind out wins and that is massively important for the coming weeks. We need to put that confidence into what we are doing on the pitch ahead of two crucial games in Europe against the Parisians.

Stade Francais might be 11th domestically at the moment, but they are a quality side and just beat Toulouse at the weekend. Last year they also had a slow start to the season, turned it around and eventually ended up winning the Top 14.

The thing with them is they can win games away from home too, but that win over Toulouse at Stade Jean Bouin will give them a massive boost ahead of the Champions Cup.

We can expect dynamic French rugby and they have the players to put us to the sword if we are sloppy so we need to get the basics right and build from there.

I recently spoke to my former Munster team-mate and friend Casey Laulala, who now plays for Stade's Paris rivals Racing 92. He said Stade's pack is really dynamic - Sergio Parisse leads that attacking threat by example and it is what he's renowned for. When Parisse is playing well, the team play well.

There are a lot of factors that will decide who wins the game in Paris, but we just need to look after our own performance and go there believing that we can put in a big one. We will have to bring the physicality that we brought up north last weekend because Stade are a quality team, especially at home.

With the way things have worked out and the re-fixing of the schedule we are going to play them twice in two weeks. It's a strange one having the back to back European games against the same side at this time of the season.

We already played Leicester Tigers twice, and unfortunately lost both of those games. We look at this as a great opportunity to play a European game where everything is on the line once more.

We need to focus on the game at hand and this weekend is really make or break for us so with all roads leading to Paris it's a day of knock-out rugby for Munster in the Champions Cup.

Irish Independent

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