Thursday 19 September 2019

Player's diary: Big Saracens game on back burner as we chase points against Blues


Flight of the Earls: Keith Earls celebrates after scoring Munter’s second try against Saracens. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Flight of the Earls: Keith Earls celebrates after scoring Munter’s second try against Saracens. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Rory Scannell

After a result like last weekend in Edinburgh, there is always a good buzz around the place, but with a short turnaround to tonight's game against Cardiff there was no time for basking in the glory.

The game in Murrayfield was a real physical battle and the bodies were a bit sore on Sunday and Monday, but after a light recovery session we were back on the field and we turned attention to this game at Irish Independent Park.

We always knew it was going to be a tight game over there. We have similar styles of play and we expected a massive set-piece, kicking and defensive battle. Once we got that try in the corner from Earlsie in the last ten minutes, we managed the game quite well. Conor and Tyler put us in the right areas, we didn't overplay things in our own half.

Tyler's conversion from the touchline was a vital moment in the game too. It meant Edinburgh had to chase a try rather than a penalty or drop goal. We backed our defence and luckily that got us over the line in the end.

Flight of the Earls: Keith Earls celebrates after scoring Munter’s second try against Saracens. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Flight of the Earls: Keith Earls celebrates after scoring Munter’s second try against Saracens. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile


Edinburgh are a massively physical team, we have played them quite a lot in the last few years. Since Richard Cockerill has come in he has honed their game nicely; their maul is powerful and they went to the corner three times in the first ten minutes to try and score from that. I know we let in one try after that but overall I thought we defended really well throughout the game.

Certainly our discipline could have been a bit better at times, but during that last five-and-a-half-minute passage I thought we showed brilliant character. I think 14 of the 15 players had more than one tackle in that last passage of play, which is insane. It shows the challenge we faced and how we did it together.

In a regular game the team's tackle count is usually somewhere around 150, but it varies depending on your opponents. At the weekend we had 200 tackles which is huge... it definitely felt like it the following day anyway!

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I think our discipline is the big thing we have to control going forward. We conceded 12 penalties overall and a lot of them were in our control, be it at the breakdown, offsides or set-piece. We usually try to keep the penalty count in single digits and it gives you a way better chance of being on the right end of the scoreboard.

When the penalties you concede are kickable, it's even worse, and if Jaco van der Walt had kicked a few more at goal instead of the corners we could have been in more bother. In the weeks ahead we have to do better there.

We had a great review of the game on Monday and it was funny, Earlsie was over the try-line before anyone even knew he had tapped the ball. We were all giving out about the penalty and next thing he was gone. It was really quick thinking - he got on with it, saw the space and got over.

The second try was one of the few times we got the ball out to the backs in the 22. The lineout didn't go according to plan, but Tyler pounced on it and after a couple of phases around the corner we hit the space on the blind side. Murray drew in a few defenders and in the end it was a good execution.

As we expected, Edinburgh were strong on the ground and they managed a few poaches from Hamish Watson and Stuart McInally at the weekend, which was a bit disappointing on our end, but our breakdown is something to work on in the next couple of weeks.

You might think that Saracens is on the menu already, but we are firmly back into PRO14 mode this week. We're in second place in the standings and we have three massive games coming up starting with Cardiff tonight.

I did watch the Sarries game back with the feet up on Sunday and they were very impressive. There is a good few of them still involved from when we played them two years ago. I think we've learned from those semi-finals ourselves too, so hopefully we can push on one step further this time.

I've seen a good bit of Cardiff too, and fresh in the minds is when we played them early in the season and they gave us a right old beating over there. They are a quality side and they had a rest week last week and they'll have their Welsh lads back in after the Grand Slam.


The threat they possess on the poach at the breakdown is massive across their back-row. Their backs are brilliant too with Gareth Anscombe pulling the strings. Any time you meet them it is hard to get your hands on the ball, so we cannot give it back to them easily. They are a massive threat. They have so much to play for themselves. They want to clinch a spot in the Champions Cup and also want to make it into the play-offs.

But this is all about us. We need the win to chase down Glasgow. We also have to nail down our own spot in the conference, so this is a huge game.

If we are to look at the remaining weeks as a whole the aim is to get top spot in the conference. That would give us a home semi and we'd also have an extra bye week. In the long term, it would make things a lot easier if we finish in first place.

But now we are three points behind and we know we will probably have to win all three and hope that Glasgow slip up. All we can do is control what we do, so we'll look to put in a performance tonight and go from there.

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