Friday 23 June 2017

Munster up against it - Erasmus

Munster 22 Ulster 20

Simon Zebo acknowledges supporters after Munster’s narrow victory over Ulster. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Simon Zebo acknowledges supporters after Munster’s narrow victory over Ulster. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

At times against Ulster, Munster looked like their minds were drifting towards next week's Champions Cup semi-final against Saracens. What was impressive was that despite that they managed to do enough to win the game.

It came at a cost: Rory Scannell is likely to miss next week's game with the ankle problem he suffered during the second half and Darren Sweetnam was knocked out in the first minute and is into the return to play protocols.

Stuart McCloskey of Ulster is tackled by Tyler Bleyendaal of Munster. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Stuart McCloskey of Ulster is tackled by Tyler Bleyendaal of Munster. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Throw in the likely absence of Conor Murray, CJ Stander's ankle issue and Duncan Williams crying off before Saturday's game with a groin issue and there is much to consume Rassie Erasmus.

That's before he takes a look at Saracens.

The intensity of the win over Ulster will help battle-harden his troops, even if there will be a switch in styles against the free-scoring English and European champions this week.

They will have to raise their game after surviving a hasty Paddy Jackson drop-goal attempt in a dramatic Thomond Park end-game, but the prospect of a packed stadium and the daunting nature of the Saracens challenge will focus the minds.

Tyler Bleyendaal of Munster is tackled by Ruan Pienaar of Ulster. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Tyler Bleyendaal of Munster is tackled by Ruan Pienaar of Ulster. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Erasmus is impressed with the direction the Londoners have taken under Ulsterman Mark McCall.

"They have evolved a lot. They are a very complete team," he said.

"At the beginning, before they had all these things, it was just a great kicking game, which they still have, but they have individual guys who can attack and score from nothing. They have a lot of English guys now and other international guys who are in the prime of their career, 28 or 29; Schalk Burger is 34 and sometimes he doesn't always make the starting line-up.

"They have really evolved a lot, with a great culture.

Andrew Trimble of Ulster is tackled by Keith Earls, left, and Donnacha Ryan of Munster. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Andrew Trimble of Ulster is tackled by Keith Earls, left, and Donnacha Ryan of Munster. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

"They are double champions so I don't think anyone can argue with that. That's the team everyone has to aspire to be. On and off the field.

"It's a well known fact everything they do on and off the field - player management, coaching staff, player recruitment - all of that they are ahead of other teams. And pressure situations they have been used to the last five, six years… so I think they are the team to beat."

Munster will need to improve their accuracy to defeat the English side after struggling for long periods against Ulster.

Their set-piece was strong and Peter O'Mahony furthered his Lions claims by disrupting Rory Best's throw before the Ireland captain was forced off with a concussion.

But their review session is likely to focus on the error count, poor execution when exiting their own 22 and the defensive lapses that allowed Ulster in behind.

Keith Earls of Munster is tackled by Luke Marshall of Ulster. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Keith Earls of Munster is tackled by Luke Marshall of Ulster. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

They conceded a maul try to a pack that has come in for criticism for its lack of tight-five edge, but responded with fourth-choice scrum-half Angus Lloyd - on loan from Ulster - touching down.

Keith Earls' finish of a Francis Saili-created try and Dave O'Callaghan's effort were enough to get the win despite Luke Marshall's try and Jackson's late attempt at a winning drop-goal.

Lucrative

The win puts a lucrative home Guinness PRO12 semi-final within their grasp. They are seven clear of third-placed Scarlets in second and need to win one of their remaining games against Treviso and Connacht to ensure their place.

Events elsewhere went in Ulster's favour. Ospreys were tanked by Cardiff Blues at the Millennium Stadium, while Scarlets failed to collect a bonus point in their win over Dragons.

That means fifth-placed Ulster are just a point behind Ospreys and three off Scarlets in third. They travel to the Liberty Stadium next, while the Welsh regions clash on the final day. A third Irish semi-finalists remains a very real prospect.

Before then, though, Ulster will take a back-seat and watch their provincial rivals take on Europe's finest in the semi-finals.

Erasmus said his side could draw comfort from Ireland's success over an England team that featured so many of these Saracens players, but warned that this is a fresh challenge.

"The guys will take some heart out of that but the way Saracens play is totally different to the way England play, the way Eddie Jones coaches his team," he said.

"Listen, whatever I say here today, we are up against it next week.

"We will give ourselves a proper chance and see how far we have grown in nine months but I am not one of those guys who always wants to be the underdog.

"I don't believe in that, I don't think we should be the underdogs when we go into games. But this is a massive challenge next week.

"The English game? We will take some heart out of that but we won't be bluffed by that, or fooling ourselves that it will win us the game. We will have to do everything right to win the game."

"I don't think you have to be the underdog to win a game. I don't believe in that."

The work towards producing a performance at the Aviva Stadium begins this morning.

At the start of the season, few would have predicted Munster would be in this position but despite a mounting injury list they are competing on two fronts.

This, however, is their biggest test to date.

Read more: Murray 'just not healing fast enough' for Sarries showdown

MUNSTER - S Zebo; D Sweetnam (A Conway 1 HIA), F Saili, R Scannell (R Marshall 67), K Earls; I Keatley (T Bleyendaal 44), A Lloyd (A Griesel 51); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 56), N Scannell, J Ryan; D Ryan (D O'Callaghan 61), B Holland; P O'Mahony (capt), T O'Donnell, J O'Donoghue (J Deysel 45).

ULSTER - J Stockdale; A Trimble (capt), L Marshall, S Olding (S McCloskey 51), C Piutau (C Gilory 61); P Jackson, R Pienaar; A Warwick (C Black 63), R Best (R Herring 51 HIA), W Herbst (R Ah You 73); K Treadwell, A O'Connor; I Henderson, C Henry (C Ross 28) (R Diack 70), S Reidy.

Ref - M Mitrea (Italy)

 

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