Sunday 22 April 2018

Trip to the sun has us ready for a big end to season

Keith Earls looks hungry for action
Keith Earls looks hungry for action

Mick O'Driscoll

Despite not having a game last weekend or this weekend, it's been a pretty hectic few days for all of us. The lads' camp was a huge success in Lanzarote, while the boys that stayed at home continued with their dedicated rehab sessions.

And tomorrow promises to be an even bigger day for more of our Munster players in the green shirt against Italy. I'm sure at this stage they are all bursting for kick-off - the build-up to the first game can seem to go on forever.

One or two of the lads will be disappointed not to have made the cut, but as we've seen of late it's a very long competition and I'm sure their chance will come. You see it at provincial level where you pick up one or two big injuries in every game and it is difficult to cope with. It just means that you need a full squad available to you and for the Six Nations you are going to need 28 to 30 players to get through the competition given the injuries which inevitably pop up.

But even looking at the Ireland Wolfhounds last weekend, there is a serious amount of depth there at Joe Schmidt's disposal. I'm sure they would have been disappointed with the result against the Saxons, but the return of Sean O'Brien, Keith Earls and Mike Ross were all big plus points.

From a selfish Munster viewpoint, it was great to see Earlsy back involved in the last few weeks and for him to get a full 80 minutes under his belt was massive. We certainly missed his explosiveness, and you can see he's hungry for action. It's refreshing having a guy of his calibre in any backline.

After getting 20 minutes against Zebre, half an hour against Saracens, 44 minutes against Sale and now a full match, he will be buzzing ahead of the Six Nations. It is very important for Ireland to have him back in the set-up, even with that limited game time I still think he can make a difference.

Last Friday night was a big occasion for Felix Jones as well. In captaining the side at Irish Independent Park, he put in another big performance at full-back, and he has been in great form all year. It came as no surprise when Joe Schmidt asked him to captain the side, we all know his leadership qualities here in Munster.

Fair play to Andy Conway too; a late call-up to the squad and he ended up getting some good game time. It was his first Ireland 'A' cap and the way he has performed all year meant he certainly deserved it. In fairness to him, he is pretty unlucky not to be named in the extended squad, but it is good to see some of our backs getting rewarded now. It is almost commonplace to see a lot of Munster forwards in the Ireland squad, so it always rewarding to see the backs under the spotlight as well.

While the international contingent battled it out all week for a spot in that match-day 23, the rest of the squad had a great week's training in the sun. Conditions were good, not too hot and a strong wind, but, most importantly, it was good to have the group together for a week's training, and the change of scenery is good to recharge the batteries.

Overall, there was a nice combination of activities for the guys to get into. There were plenty of fitness and weights sessions, some tactical and skills work, and then some good down-time as well. The general consensus is that we have put in a good week's work to set us up for a crucial period.

We have still have a few injuries to contend with, but there is some positives on the horizon as well with Dave Kilcoyne, Andrew Smith, Cathal Sheridan and Luke O'Dea all possibly returning to us in the next few weeks. Tyler Bleyendaal is settling in to his new environment, albeit with a different landscape in Lanzarote this week. But he needs to get back to full fitness and the medical assessments will continue as expected. He underwent a serious surgery just under five months ago and a full rehabilitation is required first and foremost.

We return to Guinness Pro12 action next week with Cardiff up first in a four-match block. It's always a crucial time when looking to maintain momentum with the internationals away.

We are very keen to finish off the season with a flourish and with everyone fighting for a top-six finish for Champions Cup qualification next year, it is going to be a very demanding couple of months for all involved.

The Champions Cup is over, the B&I Cup is gone now also, so it is all about the Pro12 from here on.

Irish Independent

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