Still top of the table and Munster almost snatched what had looked to be a most unlikely draw, this tough encounter was good preparation for both sides as they return to European Cup action next weekend. If someone had told you Munster would lose O’Callaghan, Sheridan and Varley in the first half you may have considered putting money on a bonus point win for Ulster but instead it was Munster who finished strongly, albeit with a lot to focus on in their preparation for the key games coming up.
The strong wind definitely had an impact, with Keatley missing 2 kicks at goal while 2 penalty kicks failed to find touch so when Munster scored a try, their only points from the first half, you wondered if they could use the wind and put the pressure on Ulster in the second half. Ulster had scored 2 tries through Jared Payne and Darren Cave with Pienaar converting both and adding two penalties in the first half (20-5). The TMO had reviewed the last gasp tackle by Ivan Dineen which preceded the Payne try but did not recommend a card be shown.
I watched the game unfold on the big screen at Break for the Border with a decent crowd of Munster supporters. It was nice to catch up with Cian there, last met returning from the semi-final in Montpellier. I was tempted to name the blog “Glass half empty” after watching the game at the same table as James who admitted he fell into that category and was full of doom and gloom. At times, especially in the first half our defence was found lacking as Ulster found plenty of opportunities to break through with their high tempo offloading game, whereas the Munster attacks were more lateral than incisive and hence easier to repel by Ulster, until a well timed pass from Keatley put Dineen in space and he used his strength and length to stretch over the line.
Munster showed their fighting spirit in the second half which was dominated by the pack, which given the disruption caused by the injuries to Donncha and Damien earned huge plaudits for Dave Foley and Duncan Casey. Dave Foley deserves credit also for getting back to ensure that John Afoa was pushed into touch when another Ulster try looked imminent.
The wind enabled Keatley to play for territory and the maul was a thing of beauty as three times in the half they mauled their way over the line after securing their lineout. The first was scored off the maul by David Kilcoyne and is worth watching to see how the well organised pack worked to find the weak point:
I am surprised they did not hear us roaring “Heave, heave” from Dublin for the second maul which was grounded by James Coughlan and converted by Keatley to bring Munster to within 4 points with the score at 23-19. The third time however the referee neither awarded the try nor a penalty (against Ulster players coming in on the wrong side) instead opting to award a 5m scrum which Ulster easily defended against, clearing their lines. They deprived Munster of a losing bonus point at the death when O’Connell was penalised and carded. Earlier Rolland had issued a team warning and Paul was the next man caught infringing. Peter O’Mahony could have preceded him to the bin but neither Rolland nor the TMO could apparently identify him as the one with his hands in the ruck. Given that he had had his hands on the ball before the ruck was formed that penalty seemed a harsh call and had given Pienaar the opportunity to pull Ulster clear, so Munster left with no points and mounting injury concerns. However as the intensity of the game was at European Cup level it provided valuable experience for Duncan Casey and Dave Foley in particular. With no certainty about when Conor Murray will return to action the injury to Cathal Sheridan is also a concern. Duncan Williams had a good game but the next in line Gerry Hurley has not had much first team experience. The same applies to Niall Scannell in the hooker position should Varley not be fit next week but at least he got more action than Hurley over the past two games. They will rise to the challenge I am sure and there seems to be a good group travelling to the game next weekend since Gloucester were so kind as to make tickets readily available online. I am looking forward to experiencing the famous Shed along with many other foot soldiers of the Red Army. Hopefully the recent flooding in Gloucestershire will not impact our plans.
Paul O’Connell, Shane Jennings and Paul Galvin featured in the documentary shown on New Years night – Donal Walsh my story. It was a moving tribute to a young man who touched a lot of people in his final days, an opportunity to hear his message again and to see the impact of his legacy on his peers. May he rest in peace. The program is currently available on the RTE player: http://www.rte.ie/player/ie/show/10238513/ available outside Ireland and there are snippets on youtube.
The following evening the Ronan O’Gara documentary offered a fantastic insight into the psyche of this proud Munster man.
It captured his real time reaction to the emergence of Sexton, being dropped by Kidney, and revealed how he is adapting to his new coaching role in France. The cameos of his children were fantastic, especially hearing them tell him on Skype while he was at the world cup that someone (Jonny) was wearing his jersey (#10), and being a proud Cork man (albeit born in San Diego) he gave a plug to Barry’s tea. I haven’t read his latest book yet but it is getting good reviews. If you have read it what did you think? The documentary is now on youtube albeit last few minutes are missing at time of writing:
Munster: Felix Jones; Andrew Conway, Casey Laulala, Ivan Dineen, Ronan O’Mahony (Johne Murphy 52); Ian Keatley, Cathal Sheridan (Duncan Williams 36); Dave Kilcoyne (John Ryan 69), Damien Varley, Stephen Archer (BJ Botha 57); Donncha O’Callaghan (Dave Foley 30), Paul O’Connell; Peter O’Mahony Capt., Tommy O’Donnell, James Coughlan (CJ Stander 71). Replacements: Duncan Casey, John Ryan, BJ Botha, Dave Foley, CJ Stander, Duncan Williams, Johnny Holland, Johne Murphy.
Ulster: J Payne; A Trimble, D Cave, L Marshall, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar; T Court, R Herring, J Afoa; I Henderson, D Tuohy; R Diack Capt., C Henry, R Wilson. Replacements: N Annett, C Black, D Fitzpatrick, L Stevenson, N Williams, S Doyle, P Marshall, M Allen.
Link to Daryl’s archive: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dfeehely