Jack O’Donoghue’s worst nightmares of last season’s semi-final defeat to Saracens were revisited on Sunday in Bordeaux but the Munster back-rower is determined to quickly move on from the latest European setback ahead of the Guinness PRO14 play-offs.
Sunday’s 27-22 Champions Cup semi-final defeat to Racing 92 at Stade Chaban-Delmas brought back painful memories of the previous season’s last-four exit to eventual champions Saracens in Dublin, even though the 24-year-old played no part against the English giants 12 months ago.
“It feels like the most disappointing result of my career,” O’Donoghue said. “Look, at the end of the season when we regroup, we’ll look at a few positives but not now.
“To come away with a defeat like that again brings back haunted memories of Dublin this time last year. It’s tough to take, it’s demoralising but we can’t think about that now, we’ve to go for the PRO14 and try to look forward to a home quarter-final.”
Munster had been left shell-shocked by Racing’s lightning start to Sunday’s semi-final, when they jumped out into 21-3 lead inside 22 minutes but O’Donoghue felt his side’s failure to strike back before half-time despite dominating possession and laying siege to the Frenchmen’s line was a crucial factor.
Tries did come, with Munster scoring three in the final 20 minutes as Racing began to flag but it was too little too late.
“We should have come away with a few extra points at the end of the first half. It could have been a different game (had Munster scored). We had them on the ropes (in the final quarter). We should have come out of the blocks a bit better than we did.”
Munster resume their PRO14 campaign with the final league game of the season against Ulster at Thomond Park on Saturday night. Second place in Conference A is already guaranteed and with it a home quarter-final in the play-offs against the third-placed team in Conference B, currently Edinburgh.
O’Donoghue is convinced the pain of defeat in Europe and knowing exactly where they went wrong can fire Munster towards a second PRO14 final appearance in succession.
“It’s going to be a massive thing for us going into the end of the season and it will be driven by the coaches and the players, we’ll be 100% driven by this. You cannot come away and not take any lessons from it.”
O’Donoghue feels he has developed a huge amount from a year ago and that has been recognised by his place in the Ireland squad which toured to the United States and Japan last summer, when he earned his second cap in the first Test against the Brave Blossoms and then trained with Joe Schmidt’s squad during the successful Grand Slam-winning Six Nations campaign.
“This time last year, I didn’t make the cut for the team. For me, it’s small steps.”
Ambitions will make it is easy for O’Donoghue to pick himself up for the rest of the season, not least to give Racing-bound Simon Zebo the ideal send-off next month.
“You see Zeebs out there and you realise it’s his last European game in the Munster jersey. You want to do everything you can to give him a proper send off.”
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