Friday 25 May 2018

Quality Racing will be gunning for us after two losses last season

Player Diary

CJ Stander in action for Munster during their victory over Racing at Thomond Park last season. Picture: Sportsfile
CJ Stander in action for Munster during their victory over Racing at Thomond Park last season. Picture: Sportsfile

Tommy O'Donnell

With all the storm warnings and big winds that came our way on Monday, we were all pretty happy to fly back home straight after the game on Sunday in the south of France.

It was one of those occasions when no one was giving out about having a bit of a rush after the game but, even with Hurricane Ophelia, it was our six-day turnaround that triggered the quick spin home.

When you have the amount of travelling fans that Munster has we had the luxury of chartering a flight through Killester Travel.

The players sit up front, but the fans get to enjoy the last few hours of their weekend having a few pints and watching rugby, while soaking up the French cuisine.

Hopefully I'll get to put some time in the back seats after I finish up playing, but there's no rush there yet.

Since the game I've been swinging from happy with the result to disappointed that we didn't win it altogether. The game was there for us on a couple of occasions to get four points and maybe five out of it.

decent But then again you have to realise that the south of France is a hard enough place to come away with anything from, and considering the pressure we were under in the last few minutes, coming away with a draw was a decent return.

For sure, we'd have been happier to take the win, but away from home, two points is a good start and we'll look to back it up this weekend against Racing.

Looking back at the game, the fact that we had done so well to ease the pressure early on when we were down to 14 men meant it was disappointing to fall behind.

Personally, I didn't feel that we were going to concede at that point. We had cleared our lines, we were defending well and we got up the field, but while attacking we threw an intercept and found ourselves under the posts.

That was tough. If we'd have scored in that time ourselves it would have been a completely different game.

To our credit, we settled straight away again - there is definitely great resilience in the squad. We knew we'd have to dig deep over there and Simon's try settled us.

There was a bit of wind out there, but it was still pretty warm too, something that the Castres lads were a lot more used to at this time of the year.

In the second half they were smart, they slowed the game down and played it at their pace. They kept themselves in there and made their physicality pay. It was a bit frustrating for us, but you'll have that I suppose.

Going into that game discipline was a big work-on for us, and we were certainly better in the first half than we have been in recent weeks. Considering the pressure we were under we showed good cohesiveness: everyone defended as a unit and we didn't give away many penalties.

It was a real shame to see that slip in the second half though. Bodies got tired and we began to give away one or two crucial penalties, which kept them in the game and allowed them to get out of their half and keep us out of scoring range.

Although it was a bit better than the Leinster match, we can still improve on that in the weeks ahead. It makes such a difference if you can keep the count down for the whole game; it is often the difference between winning and losing.

While it was really tough in Castres we know this is a different machine altogether coming at us this weekend. Racing are another team of big, physical men, who are top-class rugby players too.

On the back of two defeats to us last year they will surely be on the look-out for a bit of revenge. We have to know what to expect, we must be ready to face them. If we want to pick up the win here we have to be on the money in every facet of the game. The set-piece battle will be huge, we need to take our chances, and we have to be disciplined for 80 minutes.

Field position and territory is vital, we must play the game in the right areas of the field. To do that we have to hold on to the ball, ramp up the pressure in attack like we know we can.

Looking at their game against Tigers last weekend, Leone Nakarawa had a huge game for them and we'll have to put a plan in place for him. He's a guy we've faced numerous times when he was with Glasgow; when he's on his day he's a class act, but they have talent everywhere.

On a different note, it is great to hear that Johann van Graan was been confirmed as our new head coach, and there is definitely a sense of relief that we have a new man in place now.

Rassie obviously has a lot of faith in him which is a good sign. Johann is someone I've never come across, but the pedigree he has is top-class.

It'll be interesting to see how he settles in when he arrives, but lads are definitely curious as to what he'll be like - you always have that when a new coach is announced. I'm sure there will be a good handover period, but once Johann gets his feet under the desk I'm sure we'll see his fingerprints on our game-plan. It will be an interesting few months ahead.

I'm sure this time of the year will be tough for us for a good while yet, but it's amazing that it's already a year since Axel passed away. There was a good few tributes paid to him earlier in the week among ourselves and even a year on it's not an easy thing to believe.

Even though it was hard to see, I tuned in on Monday to watch his tribute on TV, and I thought it was a lovely memory of him.

Axel was a huge character in Munster and he'll always be missed.

Irish Independent

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