Wednesday 22 November 2017

Player Diary: Massive test for us in Thomond against a real dangerous Ulster

Rory Scannell battles through the Glasgow defence last Saturday Picture: Sportsfile
Rory Scannell battles through the Glasgow defence last Saturday Picture: Sportsfile

Tommy O'Donnell

While I wasn't involved in last weekend's win over Glasgow, there was a few sore bodies around afterwards as the boys secured a battling four points.

As the 10-7 scoreline suggested it was a fairly physical, tight game. We probably could have put more of a score up, but we made it a small bit hard on ourselves in the end.

It was an early try for James Cronin that gave us a good base, but we seemed to lose a bit of momentum when Tyler went off shortly afterwards. To his credit Rory Scannell did really well when he came on, but things didn't fall our way. We were over the try-line a couple of times and the referee and the TMO calls went against us. The game could really have opened up if we had taken those chances and we wouldn't have seen such a tight affair.

There was a small bit of niggle there, but not as much as there had been in previous games. The two teams know each other all too well after this season and that's probably the big reason that it was so tight. Both teams knew the tactics that the other would bring, so it turned into a bit of a stalemate. In the end we cancelled each other out. It just goes to show how important every point is in those kind of games.

Looking on as a spectator was tough, but I thought we fared well at set-piece time. We didn't take much off them from a defensive point of view, but we did well in attack. Our maul was dangerous although we didn't get over the line, but it set up a good bit of attack and put a lot of pressure on Glasgow. They are a quality team, they're packed with Scottish internationals, it was exactly what we expected - a real hard battle.

It's always fantastic to play in Cork, and every time we have been there this season we have had a sell-out crowd, or very close to that. I love playing there, I love the pitch and the atmosphere. The new stand creates a real bank of noise. And on the far side of the pitch you can really hear the roar coming off 'The Shed' too. Other than Thomond Park, I don't think there is a better ground to play in anywhere.

As the 24th man, I had a rare Sunday without bruises and licking my wounds. After a game it can take a bit of time to get to sleep; the adrenaline can still be rushing a few hours later, but on Saturday night I got back home and conked out immediately. It was great, I managed to get a lot of jobs done around the house and had quite a productive Sunday.

On Monday we reassembled and had a very short pitch session, but we did a bit more inside. It was very light paced, a little above walking pace, just to loosen out the bodies. It was a condensed version of our normal Monday session where we went through game plan and kicking for the weekend.

All season we have been working towards a semi-final spot. When you put in the hard work all season you are targeting a home semi-final. That would be a big reward for the fans, but financially it would be a massive thing for the club too. We are within touching distance of that now, so it is important that we keep the pressure on now.

It's great coming into the end of the season, we nearly have a full squad and there is big battles there now for positions. It is a great place to be coming into the last few weeks of the season. The lads last weekend were given their chance and they really put their hands up.

Because we are still competing for Champions Cup, Pro12 and the B&I Cup there is a lot of mini battles going on around the place. We have lots of lads available, in good form and firing well. It is not feisty in training, but it definitely is competitive.

The intensity and pace of training is really up there and I think that is paying dividends when it comes to the weekend, because we are able to last the pace of games, we can set our tempo on teams. Morale is really good and a lot of players feel they still have a chance of getting into the team. One injury can give someone a chance, so we are all ready.

Next step is this massive game with four more points up for grabs, but it's four points that Ulster desperately want too. They need the points to stay in the chase. We need them to go a little bit clear and make ourselves a bit safer. Add in the heat of an inter-pro and you have a mouth-watering game. It has all the ingredients to make it a really good match.

It is hard to know who they'll come with in the back-row: Iain Henderson has played a good bit of six lately, Robbie Diack is an option, Sean Reidy can play seven or eight and Chris Henry and Roger Wilson are there too. They have a lot of talent.

And their back-line is full of threats, they are coming off a few weeks putting high scores on teams. I know they drew last weekend against Cardiff, but they had won all six before that. The hard ground will suit players like Craig Gilroy and Charles Piutau, so we will have to be at our best in defence to keep all of those lads quiet for the day.

We talk a lot about momentum - and we have a bit of it - but Ulster definitely are coming to Thomond Park with a bit of confidence in their game too, looking to take a big win. It'll be a real battle.

September seems like ages ago when the season started, but it seems like only last week in other ways. This will be our 20th league game of the year, and seeing as we are close we are keen to pick up a couple more wins.

It has the making of a fantastic season, but we don't want to drop the ball at this stage.

Irish Independent

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