Munster supporters won’t relish the prospect of several Pro12 games without experienced players called up to the Irish squad, but Jack O’Donoghue is confident the province’s young guns can hold the fort.
On a personal level, two names in Joe Schmidt’s squad caught his eye — Tommy O’Donnell and current stand-in skipper CJ Stander. Opportunity knocks.
The 22-year-old Waterford native has moved through each of the back row positions, but is targeting the No.8 slot.
Having represented Ireland at U18, U19 and U20 levels, captaining the 2014 side to fourth place at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, O’Donoghue clearly has leadership qualities, but for now is merely intent on nailing down a more regular place on the Munster side.
Stander is blocking his way in the middle of the back row, but O’Donoghue enjoyed playing eight off the bench in the win over Treviso last week. “I have no idea at the moment (future position) but it was good to get back playing at 8 when I came on last week. It’s been a while since I played there and I enjoyed the bit of freedom of getting ball in hand. Eight is where I played some of my better rugby underage, that’s where I see myself.”
O’Donnell might be relieved to hear O’Donoghue’s second choice is on the blindside with the youngster noting: “Six is easier to adapt to playing after that, it’s kind of a similar role. You’re more defensively involved, although I think the time I got at seven was beneficial for me going forward, breakdown-wise. That will stand to me.”
Munster currently have seven players in Schmidt’s squad and it is to be assumed none, with the possible exception of James Cronin, will be available for the seven Pro12 games between now and March 25.
O’Donoghue, who will start Munster’s clash away to Zebre on Saturday, sees the period as a chance for players of his era to shine: “It’s an opportunity for those who haven’t been in the squad for the last few weeks to get some game-time, to give the coaches a headache when the internationals do come back. You want them saying ‘Yeah he played well in the last six or seven weeks’, it’s going to be important to give them that kind of headache.”
O’Donoghue admits Munster’s recent poor run was difficult for everyone in the camp.
“It’s tough on the mind. You’re coming in week to week coming off the back of a few losses. Mentally, you know we have the skills to finish out matches but the last pass wasn’t going to hand.
“I think over the last two weeks we tried to correct that and you saw some great scores against Stade, some good individual play and coming out with points is vital. Back in the PRO12 now, that will need to be the focus. We need to start climbing the table.”
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