Maybe my tweet about it being a winner take all encounter jinxed both teams, condemning them to remain 3rd and 4th in the table, but what a full-blooded and enthralling contest we were treated to in Belfast! Yes it was gutting to concede a try at the death in both halves but if you had offered me 2 league points before kick-off I would have been very tempted. What an exciting 22nd round we have in prospect next Saturday with all 6 games kicking off at 3pm. See below for the line-ups, permutations and league rules and an explanation of the boyband reference of the title!
Munster got off to a promising start as they sought to inflict the first league home defeat on Ulster this season. Winning an early advantage when Paul O’Connell was grabbed around the neck as he gathered the kick-off, Munster maintained possession through many phases before Ulster finally got their hand on the ball when Dave Kilcoyne knocked on and Ulster cleared to touch. Unfortunately Tommy O’Donnell pulled up with a hamstring injury in the early exchanges and had to leave after just three minutes so Academy player of the year (and hopefully Pro12 try scorer of the year!) Jack O’Donoghue came on in his place.
Ulster went offside giving Keatley his first kick at goal and he made no mistake to move Munster into a 0-3 lead after 5 minutes. Most of the other action in the first half seemed to take place down the other end from us. I was impressed by the fact that Munster did not concede any penalties when they seemed to have to make tackle after tackle for most of the half but maybe it is my perception as the stats don’t back that up – it shows possession and territory were close enough – Ulster had 53% possession and 51% territory in the first half! See details below. Ulster missed some good chances, Bowe just overran a pass while Paddy Jackson’s pass to Jared Payne went loose and was pounced on by Earls who hacked it on from his own 22m, sprinting past the covering Rory Best to kick it on again. Fair dues to Iain Henderson who came flying across the field and just managed to nudge Earls off as he tried to touch down the ball. Great pace from the forward! I was surprised throughout the game by how the ball bounced, after all the rain we had in Dublin yesterday there seemed to be a lot of spring in the pitch, impacting Munster’s kicking game.
CJ Stander was again a main ball carrier for Munster and won his 6th Man of the Match award this season to go with his Player of the Year accolade!
Simon Zebo did not have much opportunity in attack but made some key contributions in defence and we were surprised to see him go off after 26 minutes to be replaced by Ronan O’Mahony. I read in the42.ie that he had been struggling with a back injury all week so hopefully he will make a speedy recovery.
It was great to see Donnacha Ryan back, playing the full 80 minutes and claiming 5 lineouts. It seems amazing that he has not started with Paul O’Connell since Perpignan last season!!
Munster scored next just after the half-hour from a scrum infringement (not driving straight) and from a more difficult angle near us Keatley was again on target. Iain Henderson was then penalised for not coming through the gate to tackle Murray at the base of a ruck and we were ecstatic to go 0-9 up with less than 4 minutes left till the break but those were to be costly minutes.
Ulster got a penalty from a scrum deep in the Munster half for their first kick at goal which Paddy Jackson converted. Then from the restart with just 20s left on the clock, disaster struck when Rory Best gathered up Paul’s knock back and before we knew it we were 10-9 down! A sublime offload by Iain Henderson set Tommy Bowe off at pace, Murray and Jones failed to stop him. Earls even dived on Bowe as he dived over the line but did not manage to knock the ball out of his grasp. Jackson added the extra and it was half time.
It was great to see how much fun the special Olympics kids had playing their mini rugby as they waved to the crowd with huge smiles. The choir was also very good and had us singing along.
John Ryan started the second half (we learnt later that Kilcoyne was concussed) and continued to impress this season while BJ Botha came on after 48 minutes. When Ian Keatley gave away a penalty for being offside Ulster stretched their lead to 13-9 but Munster responded well, taking a more direct approach. It paid dividends, Keatley kicking a penalty on 54 to bring it back to a 1 point game. The scrum was a real weapon and put Ulster on the back foot. No one lost their shirt but a few of the forwards nearly lost their shorts. The Ulster lady behind me joked that it would be ok if it was Tommy Bowe’s backside we were looking at! Another powerful scrum with CJ controlling the ball at the base while it moved at pace provided Keatley with the opportunity to take the lead on the hour mark.
Keith Earls was again in the wars when contact was made in the air as he chased a box kick by Murray giving another kickable penalty which was converted to made it 13-18 and we were delighted that most of the action seemed to be at the far end from us again! Could Munster close out the game? Ulster have a superb home record and they were not going to give it up easily! John Ryan went offside and Jackson brought them back to 16-18 to set up a pulsating final ten minutes. We thought we would prevail when Iain Henderson was red carded for “leading with his head” clearing out – you can see it for yourself here from the 42.ie.
Munster kicked the penalty to touch and went on the attack, lineout secured, maul on the far side before spreading it quickly through Keatley and Jones to Keith Earls who stood up Ludik to score the try. Unfortunately the touchline conversion was missed but Ian Keatley’s otherwise excellent place kicking moved him to top of the Pro12 points scorers table for the season, 6 points ahead of Dan Biggar.
Ulster were running out of time but forced their way back up the pitch. A lineout, a maul to suck in the defenders, desperate defence from Munster when McCloskey broke through, then Payne almost got there and suddenly they had an overlap on the wing for Paul Marshall (a replacement for Nelson) to score. Of course we willed Jackson to miss the conversion while the players tried to put him off also but to the delight of the Ulster fans around us he was successful and salvaged the draw.
Munster: Felix Jones; Keith Earls, Andrew Smith, Denis Hurley, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Eusebio Guinazu, Stephen Archer; Donnacha Ryan, Paul O’Connell; Peter O’Mahony (Capt), Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Duncan Casey, John Ryan, BJ Botha, Billy Holland, Jack O’Donoghue, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Ronan O’Mahony.
Ulster: Louis Ludik; Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne, Darren Cave, Peter Nelson, Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; Callum Black, Rory Best (Capt), Wiehahn Herbst, Dan Tuohy, Franco van der Merwe, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Roger Wilson.
Replacements: Rob Herring, Andrew Warwick, Bronson Ross, Robbie Diack, Clive Ross, Paul Marshall, Ian Humphreys, Stuart McCloskey.
Match stats: note the low penalty count conceded by Munster and the closeness for possession, territory and tackles made. The centre partnership made the most tackles with Denis Hurley making 18 while young Jack missed none of his 9.
Doing a recce
Some people had predicted we could be going to Belfast for the semi-final so this trip was a good opportunity to do some reconnaissance and get the lie of the land. This week’s blog title was inspired by seeing the faithful Take That fans queueing outside the 3Arena as we went past at 10.30a.m. and when we were returning about 8pm the doors were open and there were queues to get in.
36 supporters travelled on the MRSC Dublin bus I had organised to the game and I was very impressed by their punctuality and relieved that our bus managed to get down the narrow one way street without clipping anyone’s wing mirror when the driver took the wrong turn down to the stadium! I could slag off John for being last to arrive in the morning but the blame is apparently with Iarnrod Eireann while the two girls were last back after the game after turning right instead of left, sure it could happen to anyone! I enjoyed chatting with Sean from Maynooth (originally Limerick) and Gerard who had helped establish the MRSC Brussels branch. I introduced John and Donal to Jim from whom they were delighted to purchase his brother’s spare tickets.
I arrived at the bus depot myself 5 minutes early to find Gerry and Jim had already boarded and the driver was pulling out! When I asked the driver if he knew where we were going and if he had a sat nav he said no so I was a bit concerned when he did not follow my directions as we were nearing Belfast, but he was following the satnav on his phone – hence the narrow street adventure! When he eventually parked at a funeral home I hoped it was not an omen but maybe the warning on the Methodist church was more prophetic given the last-minute heroics of Ulster
It was my first visit to the Ulster ground and I was impressed. The locals were welcoming and there was good banter and atmosphere. There was a large open area with various food options – sausage, burgers, wok, even crepes – and a bar area right beside the merchandise shop. The bar was well organised, a team of pint pullers kept going while the servers took the money and served so the queues moved quickly and in a line to the till as opposed to in many bars where you desperately try to catch someone’s eye! It was nice to meet Mr and Mrs Chips again who introduced me to Kavy also from the Forum.
The west terrace was more tiered (I counted 18 steps but think they were narrower that at Thomond) and seemed more spacious than a full house in Limerick. You entered from the top and could move down or across easily to different sections within each half. It took ages to spot the match clock – it probably is easier to spot on a dark night but I eventually found it under the big screen but partially obscured by the goalpost from my position. The roof of the stand did not extend over the terrace so we were lucky we had a dry day, indeed it was sunny at times with a breeze in the second half.
The mascot Sparky moved around the ground throughout game, encouraging silence for the kickers and at one stage during a break in play showing off some good push up skills! He seems to even have his own twitter account and favourited my #gamedaycolours tweet. A band was somewhere to my right and from time to time started off “Stand up for the Ulstermen” to get the crowd going again.
Before kick-off there was a competition for five young season ticket holders to kick at goal from the 22m line, what a great experience for them and an opportunity to win £1,500 worth of rugby equipment for their school, £500 in cash and a kicking masterclass with Ulster Rugby coaches! Thanks to “Borderlord” for his comment below clarifying that they were AIMING for the crossbar! A much more difficult thing to achieve!
The emails before and after the game to the ticket buyer from Ulster rugby provided useful information in advance of the trip, especially interesting to read their values.
Dave sat beside me on the bus and I took the opportunity to brain wash him. I was so effective that before we arrived back into Dublin he had read last weeks blog, commented on it and signed up to get future editions by email! Both Jim’s from the bus also signed up to get the blog by email without having their ear bent by me so thanks guys! I am expecting a few others to show their appreciation of my organisation of the bus trip by reading this weeks edition and adding their comments about their experience in the stands and other terraces.
If two or more Teams finish with the same number of league points, their placings will be determined by the following criteria in descending order:
- number of matches won;
- the difference between points for and points against;
- the number of tries scored;
- the most points scored;
- the difference between tries for and tries against;
- the fewest number of red cards received;
- the fewest number of yellow cards received.
So looking at the table below you can see how Munster are ranked third due to winning 14 games, one less than both Ospreys and Glasgow. Bonus points next weekend could be crucial but what upsets will there be?
It will be interesting to see which games will be shown live on TV (schedules to be confirmed). Can Leinster help Connacht and Connacht help Munster by winning and if Ulster make it 4/4 for the Irish provinces we would end up with a home semi… it’s gonna be a long week! Here is what they wrote in the42.ie about the requirements for Munster, Ulster and Connacht.
Finally my other passion is for Nepal – where I lived from 1992 – 1994 and have many friends – and some of you may be interested in a recent blog I wrote about the earthquake there. Combining these two on the occasion of my 100th edition and 30,000th view of the WestTerraceView I would love someone to make me an offer I can’t refuse of a donation to the Nepal relief efforts in return for the signed Irish jersey I won recently. See photo in my Edinburgh game blog. You can contact me by email at WTView@live.ie or leave a comment below if you wish to bid.