Wednesday 21 November 2018

We're preparing to face the best display Leinster can throw at us

Player Diary

Rory Scannell and CJ Stander going through their stretching routine
Rory Scannell and CJ Stander going through their stretching routine

Tommy O'Donnell

After a weekend without a game and a huge interpro semi-final to come tomorrow, there has been plenty of excitement around the last few days.

The lads are really looking forward to the game this weekend and with a possible two weeks left in the season, everyone is up for this one.

Any time you face one of your Irish rivals it is a big day in the season, but it is a while since a Munster-Leinster game has had so much riding on it.

Coming off the results between ourselves and Leinster already this season, which haven't gone the way we would have hoped, we want to make sure we can put in a performance. And getting the chance to have a crack off the Champions Cup winners puts a bit of added weight on the game too.

To be clichéd about it, the Champions Cup game was a typical final. It was very tense and it came down to penalties and mistakes. Leinster did really well to engineer those penalties at the end because Racing are a very hard team to break down. You might break through from 50 metres out but once you get inside their 22 they're a very hard side to penetrate, as we found out.

In the build-up to the game I thought people were not giving Racing the credit they deserved, but they had played so well against us we knew how good they are.

Continuous

You could see continuous improvement in their game each time we faced them from the first pool meeting in October to January and then into the semi-final in Bordeaux. They were also really unlucky to lose some key playmakers before and during the game, so you have to feel that Leinster didn't face the Racing that we did.

I know people would have loved to see Donnacha Ryan lift a trophy but it wasn't to be. It's testament to Donnacha that he lasted until the final whistle and then you find out that he fell out of a lineout and broke his collarbone in the first quarter.

But we've seen that determination before for Ireland and Munster and it's clear how much he has added to that Racing side. His work rate and his never-say-die attitude is incredible and he has slotted right in for the Top 14 outfit.

But as we saw at the weekend Leinster are a team that can grind out a victory or win it in style. Johnny Sexton is well able to manage a game and well able to get his team into positions. He's obviously helped by the lads around him so you have to say well done to them. It's hard to know how tomorrow's game will go: it could be a tight one like the Champions Cup final or you could see plenty of points scored from either side. In the two games so far this season the teams have shared 99 points but we'll see what happens tomorrow.

Ideally, you'd like to get a few scores on the board early, unlike the last couple of games against them, and if we could build up an early advantage hopefully we can hold on to it and reach the final.

I started both games against Leinster so far this season. The one in October went well for me personally, but I was just back from injury for the Christmas game and I wasn't at my sharpest. When you're playing Leinster every part of your game has to be at least running at 95 per cent - you can't afford to have somebody off their game. They're a quality outfit and it's hard to see any weaknesses in their side.

We don't know how Leinster are going to show up tomorrow after last week's exploits, but for every rugby player it's part of the job to show up and perform two weeks in a row so we're all expecting a huge showing from them. That Leinster squad is full of Irish internationals and they are well able to perform two weeks in a row. We can't go in expecting them to be sub-par and the fact that there's less pressure on them this week means they might have a bit more freedom to play their game. We have to expect to face the best Leinster there is.

I have been working away on my own rehab this week and it's coming along nicely. I'm back doing upper body exercises and I've stopped the rot a small bit. I lost a few kilos from my upper body in the last month or so, so starting to reverse that is a good feeling. 

I'm back on the field too doing some running alongside the lads, and I can see how they're training and preparing for this game, but from my own point of view that's a great milestone. To feel like a rugby player again is great, and even though I'm just doing some running, pulling on that training shirt is a good place to be.

One positive from being side-lined is that it gives you the chance to catch up with a few friends and last weekend I got to go to a friend's 30th birthday party back in Tipperary. My folks helped out with the babysitting and it was great for my young fella to go back to my home place. Even just the chance to bring him on his first walk around the farm, seeing his fascination with the cattle, was cool.

Tomorrow I'll probably head to Dublin for our game, so I'm going to miss out on the Tipperary football game, but seeing as the hurlers are playing Limerick on Sunday I might show my face at that. Considering it's taking place at the Gaelic Grounds just across the city, it will be nice and handy so I might get to go and take that in.

But before that it will be great to experience the RDS for the first time in nine years. Hosting it there makes sense from a Leinster point of view because their fans travelled last week and the Aviva would have been too big, but I'm sure - as usual - the Munster supporters will be there in red with everyone looking forward to getting behind the team.

Irish Independent

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