Rory Scannell: 'It's one of the tougher days in my career but we've lots to play for still'
PLAYER’S DIARY: Rory Scannell
Six days on from that loss at the Ricoh Arena and it's still hard to stomach being out of the Champions Cup, but the good thing this week was having such an exciting end of season to look forward too.
Yes, it was really tough to lose for the third year in a row in a semi-final, but we felt we gave it a good shot and just came up against a very good team in Saracens.
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We still have a possible four - and hopefully three - games to go in the PRO14, and a win tomorrow against Connacht to give us a shot at a home semi-final is what we are aiming for. We're looking forward to getting back to Thomond Park for our second last game of the season there. It should be a cracking game.
Looking back at the Saracens game, it was a tough outing, and there is no doubt they were the better side on the day. They are obviously massively physical in the way they attack. At times it was like wave after wave of big ball-carriers coming at us, and while we coped for the most part, they managed to break through in a couple of big moments and that was the difference in the end.
We knew when we were going over that they were a quality side, that it'd be one of our biggest tests of the year and they didn't disappoint either.
Their set-piece is always tough to stop when it gets going, but I thought we scrummaged well against them. Their lineout is impressive and they mauled well, but from our point of view I thought the penalties we conceded were the killer. I think the count was close enough - we gave away one more than them - but unfortunately we gave them a lot of kickable ones inside our half. When you're playing against a talented kicker like Owen Farrell, you can't give up those penalties. I think we conceded six or seven in our own half and that probably cost us in the end.
Like two years ago we were still well in it at half-time. There was only three points of a gap, and we probably needed a good ten-minute start to the second half. But instead they came out and scored 13 points unanswered in that period of time. That changed the game totally and we were playing catch up from there. It was a huge time in the game and it meant that we had a tough second half ahead of us.
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Our defence needed to be good for the full 80 minutes but it is very hard when they have 50 or 60 minutes of possession. In the end it was too big a challenge. We got just what we expected from them. It was always going to be a tough task and they delivered a top-drawer performance on the day. There is no complaints from us really, the better team won.
Lads were shattered after the game. We gave it everything. It was very hot over there at match time too so we were all drained afterwards. There was not much said, we just got on the bus and flew back that evening. It was one of the tougher days I've experienced playing for the province.
I took a look back at the game on Sunday and it was tough viewing. That first try after half-time was the big score and they took all of their chances really well. It was one of those occasions that they got a big carry and it gave them great momentum. They tend to add four or five carries in a row when they get going like that and once that happens they are really hard to stop. I thought we had defended really well but Michael Rhodes ran a good line and scored beside the sticks.
Monday was a recovery day for the lads that played over in Coventry and a few of us were in for a bit of physio treatment in the morning but by and large it was a recovery day. We did a quick review of the game on Tuesday and after that it was quickly put to one side.
I think we were all happy to switch focus to Connacht pretty much straight away and with a trophy still to play for we have to be ready. We wanted to get our hands on two trophies next month, and that's not possible now this season, but we are hopeful of finishing the season on a high.
I'm sure like the players, the supporters are really disappointed to exit Europe, but we have so much to play for in the league. We have a quarter-final in the bag already and depending on results we could get straight into the semi-final yet. It all depends on how the last round of games go tomorrow.
The first job is to make sure we beat Connacht at Thomond Park and hopefully Edinburgh will do us a favour at Scotstoun too. All we can control is what we do and if we have a home semi-final or a home quarter-final we'll look forward to it. It's far from all doom and gloom.
When we look at Connacht they are a very impressive side. In the centre, Bundee Aki is back for them, Peter Robb is playing well and Tom Farrell has had a very good couple of seasons since he came from Bedford. He caused us some problems when we played them up in the Sportsground over Christmas. He is having a great season and if he is playing we'll have to do our best to stop him.
Overall, they've had a very good season. They have secured a quarter-final against Ulster and have been going well in the last few months. They were probably a bit disappointed with their result against Sale in Europe but in the PRO14 they have been impressive.
They've been on a good run of form and as third place in the conference we know they'll really put it up to us tomorrow.