Friday 24 November 2017

We need no reminder how tough it will be against Scarlets tonight

Ronan O’Mahony helped Munster to victory over Scarlets last September – a result which has proved to be a springboard for their season. Photo: Sportsfile
Ronan O’Mahony helped Munster to victory over Scarlets last September – a result which has proved to be a springboard for their season. Photo: Sportsfile

Jack O’Donoghue

There is a good bit of excitement around the squad this week with the prospect of our latest outing to Thomond Park for the visit of Scarlets tonight, but despite all that we are all fully aware of the significant challenge that lies ahead of us.

We last played Scarlets back in round two of the Pro12 in September and that was a real significant game for us in our season. It was the first day that we really implemented Jacques' new defensive plan and was the first time that we saw the benefits that it has brought to our game too this season.

It was one of those days that every player we lined up was met with a strong tackle and we left Parc y Scarlets with the four points and a good feeling about the season ahead.

But since then both sides have improved greatly in all facets of the game. Scarlets, I'm sure, are delighted with their current run of form after they picked up wins against Zebre, Glasgow Warriors, Ulster and Cardiff in recent games. For sure they were not firing on all cylinders when we played them last, so as a team in fourth place, we know how much they are going to put it up to us tonight.

Pest

The last time we played them James Davies was a notable absentee from their back-row and I'm sure he will have a big role to play for them in this game. He is an absolute pest around the breakdown. If he gets half a second to see the ball he is on it like a flash, so we're going to have to have eyes on him all night. The breakdown is an area that we feel we are strong in too, so with him and his team-mates all on song, it should produce sparks.

While I mentioned our defensive effort in Wales in September, it has to be said we were off the mark last weekend when we returned there to face Ospreys. We were a long way off the mark in the early stages and if we're honest we should have been more than 17-3 behind after the first 20 minutes or so.

We were all sloppy, our physicality wasn't what it needed to be and they blew us out of the water with a couple of well-taken tries. There were lots of mistakes from us in that period, and I include myself in that analysis too. For their second try I should have controlled the ball better at the back of the scrum, and when I got back in the line I over-committed in the tackle and was sidestepped by Kieron Fonotia.

I saw him coming around the corner and I was so determined to make up for my earlier mistake that I just tried to stick a big hit on him. Instead he produced a lightning jump step and I was left tackling his shadow.

It was a pretty costly error on my part, but we had a quick chat with Jacques after that and he was pretty calm. The message was 'we all miss tackles, get over it and don't let it happen again'. So it was pretty pleasing to be able to play my part in us getting back in the game so soon after.

It was probably about time that I got my first try of the season, which is my fifth in total now for Munster. But I'd say it is probably the best feeling I've had since my first one way back in the 2014-'15 season against Cardiff Blues. It was a well-worked move, one we've worked on plenty on the training ground, but even so, the pass back to me from Billy Holland was inch-perfect and I was at full tilt running on to it. I spotted their winger in the defensive line, and even before I got there I knew I was going over.

Then for Francis to back that up with a second try so soon after was a big lift for us going into half-time. We knew we should have been much further behind, such was the mess we made of the first quarter, so to have that lift was great.

The second half was more of the same from us. We did pretty well for the most part, although we probably could have had the third try a little bit earlier had we taken one or two chances. But fair play to Killer, he did really well to score from that position, and we were all confident in Tyler with the conversion.

The impact off the bench was a big thing for us. Conor Oliver brought huge intensity to the field and he was responsible for a key turnover at a maul, and Andy Conway and a few other lads really upped our game. It's a role I've done loads of times and you just have to empty yourself for however long you are given. The lads really did that in Swansea.

As we were defending the halfway line late on trying to hold out, I took a bit of a knock, but it was great that we held on, for what was a real hard-fought victory. One of those games where it feels so much more than four points.

I had to take it easy on my ankle earlier this week, but it is pretty good at this stage and I'm keen to play my part again, in what promises to be another lively night at Thomond Park.

Like every other rugby supporter in the country, I'll be tuned in to the TV for tomorrow's game against France at the Aviva. Growing up, there was always a magical feeling about facing France in the Six Nations, and I'm sure tomorrow's game will be no different.

I'm delighted for all our lads that are going to be involved and everyone that played their part in training with them this week. I'm sure Billy Holland and Dave Kilcoyne are sorry not to be there, but on the other hand I'm thrilled for Andrew Conway that he has been called back in again.

He's worked so hard all season, and has been one of our in-form guys. It was tough on him to miss out through injury at the start of the competition, but I'd say he has enjoyed his chance to shine at Carton House.

Fingers crossed for Munster and Ireland wins.

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