Sunday 21 January 2018

Players are ready to give it everything

Ian Keatley back in the heat of the action against Ulster’s Ruan Pienaar Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Ian Keatley back in the heat of the action against Ulster’s Ruan Pienaar Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Felix Jones

Like everyone around the province this week, there are a few nerves there as we put the finishing touches on our preparations for Saracens tomorrow.

But what an opportunity we have now that we're in the last four. All we can do is deliver an honest effort and see where that brings us.

While we didn't get the performance we were looking for against Ulster, the win and the semi-final slot that came with it is very pleasing. We were delighted that the guys just stuck at it and found a way to get a win.

It seems to be a recurring thing with the team of late: they really refuse to give in, they are constantly looking for a way to get across the winning line at the last gasp. It probably wasn't the most polished performance in any area of the game, but it was enough and that's what we needed.

As we said beforehand, we were expecting Ulster to be desperate for the win and, in fairness to them, they wouldn't give in either, which made for an exciting game.

There were disappointments, but also a lot of positives to take from the win. Francis Saili had a tremendous game, and it's great to see him back hitting his straps after what was a long lay-off for him. But there were other backs that were outstanding: Andrew Conway was excellent, Keith Earls was man of the match, and Ian Keatley was back in after a bit of a lay-off as well.

It's nice to have clinched the semi-final place last weekend, but it's all off the back of a lot of work that they boys have put in since last July. It is so important to remember how close so many of these games have been.


It is said all the time about how fine the margins really are between a win and a loss in this league. It's great to be into the last four, but we're really aware of what got us to this point and how much effort it has taken to get us this far. A call or two might go against you, a result might go the opposite way and that's the difference sometimes.

And you really have to compliment the squad on their diligence. Not necessarily the starting 15 players that will play against Saracens, but more so the 15 or 20 guys behind them that have, in my opinion, really stepped up.

In our training sessions during the week, they really test the starting team for that particular game. It is a credit to the guys behind the front-line players; they are making things competitive and really keeping everyone on their toes.

That is also one of the big reasons why that team is in the B&I Cup final at Irish Independent Park tonight too I think.

It is massive for all of us to see the province in that final, and it is well deserved too. Those guys have been working just as hard if not harder than the guys in the first team.

They train with us full time, then some guys have to make training with their clubs, wait for their opportunity and then be disappointed again. But they turn up every day during the week and apply themselves with a huge effort. It is a great reward for them to be in the final and I really hope they do the job.

Changing focus to tomorrow's test, Saracens are a phenomenal team. They are European and Premiership champions. If you were to name their team and look at what they've achieved, it shows what a massive challenge we face.

But we have met massive challenges this year and our solution to it is to give it our full and honest effort. That's all we're looking for from a coaching and player point of view. I hope we enjoy it, and play without any expectation hanging over us.

I played the last two semi-finals against Toulon and Clermont. I can't remember the final scores, but I remember the Clermont game went to the last play of the game, and it was pretty much the same against Toulon. I didn't find either game overly daunting, but it was like any other huge game: the stakes are a little bit higher.

Both of them were away in France and we had tremendous travelling support, but I look back on them now and what I'd give to play in another semi-final - especially one in the Aviva packed with our supporters.

From an outcome point of view, the obvious wish is to win, but from a process viewpoint we want to see a maximum honest effort from the guys. They have been doing that all week in training and once we deliver that tomorrow we'll be able to look each other in the eye.

Whatever the result, there will be no lack of effort from us.

Irish Independent

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