Monday 19 August 2019

Winning at home is the only option in Europe

Munster head coach Anthony Foley in conversation with Jerry Flannery during training in Limerick
Munster head coach Anthony Foley in conversation with Jerry Flannery during training in Limerick

Mick O'Driscoll

This is always an exciting week for rugby players. The build-up to the first European game of the season creates a bit of a buzz around the place as everyone hopes to make the cut for the Champions Cup.

First up in Europe against Treviso at home will be a tough outing. Their league position is not a true reflection of the talent in their squad and the rugby they are capable of playing. Make no mistake, we are expecting our toughest game of the season so far and we know we'll have to be on song to get off to a winning start.

In many ways last weekend's win in Edinburgh was the perfect preparation for a battle like this in Europe. We played a lot of smart rugby throughout but after nearly losing the game at the death, we held on with some excellent defensive work.

We put ourselves under a lot of pressure in the second-half but in fairness to Ian Keatley, he kicked two good penalties to get us back in front near the end, which we obviously needed.

Maybe it was a night to kick the ball dead but I thought when their guy got the intercept he had every right to score.

In fairness to our lads, they worked really hard to get back. It's very unusual to see the number of defenders getting back like that before the attackers get up in support.

The work rate that our guys were willing to put in to get there after 80 minutes of rugby was excellent. It showed the desire they have to win a game, which we ultimately should have lost based on what happened.

Overall, if you look at the difference between this year and last year, for whatever reason, that is a game we possibly would have lost 12 months ago. We are learning to dig a bit deeper now and I think that's a good sign.

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The battle at the scrum was probably edged by Edinburgh but we are of the opinion that we have one of the strongest scrums in Europe, or fairly close to it anyway. We always knew that it was going to be a tough test at the set-piece over there.

Getting stuck in

To be fair to John Ryan, he really got stuck in, he hasn't played a lot of tighthead in the last few years. With Stephen Archer out for a while, John will end up playing a good bit of tighthead and he stuck at it the last day. It is such a specialised position that you need to be playing there all the time but we were impressed with the shift he put in against such a strong scrum. He worked tirelessly around the park, did a huge amount in the loose and really deserved his try, which he finished very well.

For his first game for us, we were also impressed with Mario Sagario's effort. He did well in the scrum and from looking at him since he arrived we have no doubt he'll do a good job for us. It was a bit of a baptism of fire for him last weekend, but like John, he got stuck in and kept things solid.

Once he gets to grips with our shape in defence and attack, he'll come on in leaps and bounds. At the end of the day the guy has more than 50 caps for Uruguay, so he is a seasoned campaigner. I have no doubt he'll be good for us.

In the last couple of weeks we've had a good look at Treviso's recent games and we've been impressed with what we saw. In playing them already in the first game of the season we found them to be very sticky opponents, a very difficult team to come to terms with at times.

They have changed how they played since last year. They are not kicking ball as much as they were and they are going through the phases.

I believe it's only a matter of time before it clicks for them and they do a job on some team. I just hope that it's not going to be us at the weekend.

But we're in a decent place ourselves and we're looking forward to getting into Europe. The fact that we didn't get out of our group last year was a big disappointment for us and we feel that's something that we're going to have to put right this year. Losing at home is not an option now in Europe. We lost against Clermont last year and it cost us dearly. We were up against it from there.

This week is all about concentrating on our own game. Hopefully, if we get our own house in order, it will be enough to see us get the win.

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