In any language, Jack O’Donoghue has the talent for a long and illustrious career in the Ireland back row. It may just be a matter of where he fits best, be it on the blindside, openside or at No. 8 but for now, the 22-year-old from Waterford is happy just to be in the Munster first team, developing his skill-set and broadening his experience all across the line.
While describing O’Donoghue as a natural six or No. 8, fellow back row CJ Stander praised O’Donoghue’s performance last Saturday at Scotstoun when he stood in for the injured openside Tommy O’Donnell, looking perfectly at home in the red No. 7 jersey as Munster booked a place in the Champions Cup quarter-finals with a 14-12 win over Glasgow Warriors.
When O’Donoghue was this week asked directly which position he preferred, the response was immediate: “Uimhir a hocht.”
No. 8 it is then but the back rower, who earned his first Test cap for Ireland in that position against Canada last November, was satisfied with his efforts on the openside as Munster shut down an adventurous and attack-minded Glasgow outfit on their home patch.
“It was a new role for me playing at No. 7 at European level,” O’Donoghue said. “I know my first start for Munster was there (against Zebre in September 2014) but to be out against Glasgow, trying to get a quarter-final place, I was happy enough with the way it went.
“There were a few snags but nothing that I can’t get right with Jacques (Nienaber, defence coach) during the week and try to put right if I am lucky enough to get selected for this weekend.”
There would be no luck involved if O’Donoghue retained his place, although O’Donnell has recovered from the ankle injury that forced him out of the European win over Racing in Paris and paved the way for his rival to make the start in Scotland.
The Waterford man has some serious momentum behind him after a campaign that has already seen him capped by Joe Schmidt during an extended stay in the Irish squad during November’s Guinness Series.
“I was full of energy coming back to Munster with the things I learned in Ireland camp and I was able to come here, showcase them and try to get a spot here. You learned more as the season went on.
“It was massive to get the first cap but once you get the first you want the second and I’m trying to push on and be with the Six Nations squad this season. I got the nod last year to go in as cover but to be named in the initial Six Nations squad for this year (on Sunday) would be massive. But I’m focused on Munster and the job at hand and if any of that comes now or in the future, so be it.”
Gaining more experience at openside can only be a positive in terms of making an impression on Ireland head coach Schmidt’s selection thoughts and he could well throw down a serious marker this Saturday at Thomond Park if he gets the chance to pick up where he left off last weekend at Scotstoun.
“There was a lot of defending. I suppose I couldn’t worry about trying to control the ball from the back of scrum when I was at No. 7. There is a massive defensive role for Munster and that’s what I had to do. It’s only gonna feed into my game and if it means I get the nod in the Ireland camp I’m happy enough working at these different things in a small period of time. Whether I get the start at No. 7 or No. 8 I try to work on these things.”
As for the immediate task, O’Donoghue is fully focused on helping Munster get the victory over Racing that guarantees the province a home quarter-final in April.
The French champions have no chance of qualifying as a best runner-up in Pool 1 after their 32-7 humbling by Munster in Paris a fortnight ago but they have shown signs of life by beating Leicester 34-3 at home last weekend and O’Donoghue is also mindful of the reverse his team suffered at Welford Road by a Leicester side hammered in Limerick seven days previously.
“That was a real kick up the hole for us, and it shows that we can’t get complacent and can’t get ahead of ourselves.
“Racing are deadly when the ball is in open play and you saw when we played them, there was a deflection and they ended up getting over for a score in the corner.
“They really are a ‘joueurs’ (players) team when they are in open play. We have to stick to our game plan and play the game in our terms.”
O’Donoghue talks like a veteran and while he only turns 23 on February 8, last Saturday’s game was his 52nd Munster appearance, 11 of which have been in Europe, the sort of experience for a young man that leaves him feeling he has to pinch himself for having come so far in such a short time since Anthony Foley handed him his debut three seasons ago.
“It did happen very fast for me and I have to go back to Axel and thank him for that. He was the one who brought me through and gave me opportunities. It’s something special to be involved in this. It’s a new generation coming through and we’re trying to create our own history now.”
There will definitely be another box ticked in April when O’Donoghue will hope to be involved in a first European knockout game.
“Kicking on, it could be the first time that I could potentially be involved in an European quarter-final. I remember in 2008 I was that lad in the stand watching those sell-out games — this one is going to be massive. I remember 2006 too; I was in sixth class and I was making my Confirmation on the same day as the final and I was not allowed to the final. I was furious with my mother.”