O’Donnell issues another Red alert

Tommy O'Donnell: Ready for tough test against Saracens.

It seems a little early to be manning the barricades and demanding your comrades go once more into the breach but with Saracens coming to Thomond Park on Friday night, that is exactly what Munster need to do to keep their Champions Cup campaign on track.

Having played their ‘get out of jail card’ on the opening day of Pool 1, qualifying with their last-ditch victory at Sale Sharks last Saturday, Munster are back on home soil needing more than just outrageous fortune on their side as English giants and last year’s Heineken Cup runners-up Saracens come calling six days after scoring a bonus-point win over Clermont Auvergne. So back row Tommy O’Donnell believes it will take a strong early statement from Munster to banish memories of last weekend’s chaotic first-half performance against Sale, to get Thomond Park rocking and put Saracens on the back foot.

“(That) really gets the crowd into it,” O’Donnell said. “That’s what they come to see rugby games, big breaks and big tackles and, of course, tries. And they know they are going to get it from us, it is a sell-out, the atmosphere will be there. I think it is going back to the classic, it’s Munster, it’s Thomond Park on an (October) night, it is the kind of stuff I used to watch Munster at when I was younger so I’m really looking forward to it.” Of course Saracens may have a small say in the matter and O’Donnell is fully up to speed with the threats the London side possess in every area of their team and all facets of their play; in other words, a group of players who will not give up a 23-7 half-time lead the way Sale did last Saturday as Munster ran out 27-26 winners.

“I see a huge ball-carrying presence and some really good defensive players around it and lads who will make a real nuisance of themselves, so it presents a real opportunity that we need to go out there and put a physical stamp on the game, try and quieten their back row and try to keep their wingers quiet as well as they are a quality side all over. They have internationals, former, current, so it is going to be a real physical battle.

“You have two of the top ball-carriers in their leagues with CJ (Stander) and Billy Vunipola clashing probably, two guys on form so it will be interesting to see the stats. Obviously we have to go out there, we can’t start like we did last week, we can’t let them get up and let them get a few scores because they will be better defensively.”

“That’s really the challenge, to put our physical edge on the game and play the game that we know we are capable of playing and just go about it. If you take the right attitude to it, it makes it an awful lot easier.”

Saturday’s great escape may have sparked great celebrations as Ian Keatley’s drop goal sailed over in overtime but for O’Donnell and his team-mates it was the type of victory they could do without, however extraordinary the effort it took.

“Keeping them to only a penalty in the second half really helped us and our try in the first half just kept us within touching distance. We know when we get rolling we’re capable of scoring and I think our scores came at the right time. We weren’t leaving it too late. We got one (try) before 60 minutes and we got one before 70 so we knew we had 10 minutes to keep battling away. Do you know, I’d have preferred if we’d have got down and got a try and came away with a bonus point instead of having to leave it to the final kick ... We didn’t win it in the fashion that we’d have liked, so we can’t get cocky.”


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