Saturday 15 December 2018

Those couple of days in Ireland camp have given me a huge lift

Alex Wootton in action against James Hart and JJ Hanrahan during training in Limerick Photo: Sportsfile
Alex Wootton in action against James Hart and JJ Hanrahan during training in Limerick Photo: Sportsfile

Jack O'Donoghue

It's funny, you spend most of the year waiting for that call-up to Irish camp, and when it comes you still have to fly around the place to get yourself ready.

I got the call on Sunday evening and thankfully you don't need much, just the boots, a gum shield and a notebook. All your training gear is laid on for you at Carton House so it didn't take me long to get myself organised.

It was a brilliant couple of days in camp and I was definitely more relaxed in the environment this time. It was really exciting and it gave me a taste of what it's all about again. I hadn't had that since the summer tour, so it was really pleasing to be back in the thick of it.

It gave me a bit of excitement and spurred me on in my game so I can hopefully use it as another motivation to kick on in the next four games.

The atmosphere in camp was great and the confidence was palpable from the minute you came in the door. How else would it be after that exciting weekend! But with Joe and the rest of the coaching team you don't get to celebrate too long, it is very much Monday morning back to work, and prepare to face Italy.

My role in camp was to run the opposition plays. It was great, the intensity was high in training, the tempo was well up there too and I got to show what I can do.

On Tuesday we were running the attack plays so I got the chance to play a bit. The way Italy operate at the moment you kind of have free rein when you get your turn in the Sergio Parisse role. If you can deliver what's asked of you it does reflect well on you.

I was away for the weekend with my girlfriend Olwyn, so we watched the France game in the hotel at Druid's Glen where we stayed. The game was on all over the place in the hotel so I found a quiet enough corner in the lobby to watch it.

I don't think I have ever seen such an exciting finish to a game and what the lads achieved in that last few minutes was incredible. The discipline and skill level needed there was through the roof.

It was lovely to get a break away though because I didn't get any time off for the first few days of the match-free window. I picked up a bit of a knock on my shoulder against Castres and I needed to get a bit of physio done, so although we were given 10 days off I was still in and around base quite a bit.

It's amazing what a couple of days away does for you and I think we're all buzzing to get back.

The next block of games with Munster are massive, but personally it is a chance for me to step up as a leader within the squad.

When the Irish lads are away it is important that guys are not shy in stepping forward to help the likes of Billy Holland and the rest of the leaders here. I want to do that role though; I want to show Johann van Graan that I can be a leader.

We were all back in for a mini pre-season week and as a result we didn't look too much at Zebre, which we normally would. Instead we went back to basics and focused on what we want to be good at.

The coaches had a good look at our last block around Christmas time to identify what we needed to work on to help us approaching the knockout stages of Europe and the back end of the PRO14.

After the few days in Carton House I wasn't needed at Ireland camp after Tuesday so I headed back to Munster after that.

Because I missed the start of the week I had a bit of cramming to do when I got back, but luckily Darren Sweetnam is my housemate so I could pick his brain for information on the attack session that I missed.

At this stage I am well up on all of our plays so it is just a matter of nailing which plays we will be running - it's not as if I was going back into a strange environment.

The aim of the game this week is to not overcomplicate things, we will be keeping it pretty basic. There will be quite a different team lining out to the one that took on Castres with so many lads up in Ireland camp, so with all that chopping and changing a straightforward game-plan will benefit us.

Since Johann came in he has said he will keep things the same, but he has made tiny alterations along the way too. This last couple of weeks has been a good chance to do that.

There are small things you can change that make a significant difference. Perhaps to the untrained eye people won't spot them, but it is amazing what impact a small change can have.

I'm sure when it comes to pre-season ahead of next season we'll get to expand on the plans further, but so far I think everything is going in the right direction.

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