Monday 9 December 2019

Dineen piles pain on dismal Ulster

Ulster 6 Munster 16

WHAT'S Afrikaans for 'brutal'?This was supposed to be the season when winds of change would blow through Ulster rugby. Inspired by the totemic presence of ex-playing inspiration David Humphreys as director of operations, Ulster got the chequebook out and went in search of success.

The chosen route was the well-beaten path to South Africa and with the arrival of Ruan Pienaar, Johann Muller and Pedrie Wannenburg -- supplementing resident Springbok BJ Botha -- expectation levels soared.

On the basis of last night's performance against a Munster side missing two-thirds of their frontline players, it has been money down the drain -- particularly with the negative effects the South African injection has had on the development of Ulster's Irish players.

Munster can feel extremely satisfied with this victory at a venue where they have not won since 2007 and it is a result in keeping with a season of steady, understated achievement.


Without the majority of their Ireland contingent (Damien Varley was a late release from the Irish training camp), Tony McGahan selected a team of old hands, young guns and fringe players and they combined to perform an excellent smash-and-grab operation.

Young Ivan Dineen got his chance in the centre and crowned an impressive showing by pouncing on indecision from Ulster out-half Ian Humphreys to deny the home team a losing bonus point they did not deserve.

Ian Nagle is a real prospect in the second row and Niall Ronan stood out in the back row, where James Coughlan and replacement Peter O'Mahony also got through a mountain of work.

Peter Stringer, winning his 200th cap, provided calm at scrum-half while Scott Deasy had some good moments at the back.

For Ulster, Adam D'Arcy looked sharp and Willie Faloon worked hard but, rather than their Springbok contingent, it was youngster Nevin Spence that tried hardest to inspire.

The word in Belfast is that Pienaar is on around £6,000 a week and, on this basis, you would hope Ulster kept the receipt. Fumbles, missed touches and missed penalty kicks, including a sitter to possibly grab a draw at the death, were not on the Pienaar CV when he was signed.

Ulster led 6-3 at half-time but, on the basis of territory and possession, should have been further ahead.

The turgid nature of the affair was reflected by the Ulster mascot 'Sparky' looking anything but electric as he trudged disconsolately down the touchline and the most dominant personality in the first 40 was referee Alan Lewis.

The home side looked by far the likelier to cross the line, a searing break from Ireland U-20 star Spence after six minutes had try written all over it, but Deasy made an excellent tackle. Ulster kept pressure up and the penalty duly arrived, Pienaar converting for a 3-0 lead.

Paul Warwick replied a few minutes later but it was Munster who were soon under pressure again and an attempted chip-and-chase by Alan Quinlan ended up in the arms of Faloon, who set up another Pienaar penalty for 6-3 after 16 minutes.

Quinlan hobbled off not long afterwards, to be replaced by O'Mahony, and the game struggled on to the break with Pienaar missing an eminently kickable penalty after 33 minutes.

On the resumption, Munster took advantage of yet another knock-on, this time from second-row Tim Barker, to establish a foothold in the home 22, with Warwick tying the scores.

The match was still screaming for some invention or semblance of fluidity. Three or four phases could have allowed the ball to move wide but the mistakes just kept on coming, such as after 54 minutes when Munster worked several phases only for Johne Murphy to spill in midfield.

It was Warwick who at least provided the game's first score in 20 minutes with a beautifully struck penalty to push the visitors into a 9-6 lead with nine minutes left.

He scuffed a drop-goal attempt a minute later but Munster were putting the squeeze on, with the crowd venting its considerable frustration on Lewis. Their ire switched onto their team after Pienaar's horrendous miss and Dineen's poached, bonus-point denier.

One gravely voiced gentleman switched from his ceaseless "Ulster, Ulster" chant to "You are a disgrace to the jersey" at the game's conclusion. 'Sparky' was nowhere to be seen.

ULSTER -- A D'Arcy; M McCrea (L Marshall 27), I Whitten, N Spence, D McIlwaine; I Humphreys, R Pienaar; P McAllister (J Cronin 53), N Brady, B Young; J Muller (capt), T Barker (D Tuohy 17-26, 65); P Wannenburg, W Faloon, R Diack (C Henry 56).

MUNSTER -- S Deasy; D Howlett, J Murphy, I Dineen, Denis Hurley (S Zebo 60); P Warwick, P Stringer; W du Preez (D Hurley 76), D Varley (M Sherry 74), J Hayes; B Holland, I Nagle; A Quinlan (P O'Mahony 19), N Ronan, J Coughlan.

REF -- A Lewis (Ireland).

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