Monday 19 February 2018

Foley puts his faith in Keatley to kick on

Ulster 7 Munster 9

Gerhard Van den Heever is tackled by Chris Henry. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / Sportsfile
Gerhard Van den Heever is tackled by Chris Henry. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / Sportsfile
Munster's Francis Saili is tackled by Robbie Diack. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / Sportsfile
Ulster's Lewis Stevenson battles for the ball with Mark Chisholm. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

They normally gather around and sing 'Stand Up and Fight' in the Munster dressing-room after a win, but one wonders whether Anthony Foley changed the playlist to include a little Aretha Franklin such was his emphasis on respect in the build-up to his side's visit to Ravenhill.

Respect for themselves, respect for their team-mates, respect for the ball; those and, the coach conceded, a dollop of the kind of luck that had evaded them during the five successive defeats that had haunted them in November and December.

This narrow victory won't cure all that ails the Reds, but it will certainly make life a little sunnier as they begin preparations for their must-win visit to the home of the French champions Stade Francais on Saturday night.

It also keeps them firmly in the hunt in a congested Guinness Pro12. Fifth, they are part of a large peleton behind leaders Scarlets, level on points with the team they beat in Belfast as they turn their focus to the Champions Cup for three weeks in a row.

They have done better things with the ball in recent weeks and lost, but the difference here was what they did without it. Despite missing some key names and losing Andrew Conway and Dave Foley in the build-up, they improved their tackling and didn't allow themselves a step backward in the collision-zone, upsetting the home side's ball and forcing errors.

Les Kiss was left fuming by his own side's inaccuracies. They had looked the better team for much of the game, showing some classy attacking plays and dominating field-position but they let Munster off the hook time and time again. They even had two kicks to win it, but Paddy Jackson couldn't get the distance on a heavy pitch.

In the end, the relief was palpable, but respect was the key for Foley.

"Respect was the big word we had all week. The boys turned up for one another and didn't go hiding," he said.


"When things went against us, they stood up and went back at it hard again. I thought it was led by captain in CJ (Stander) and then the No 10 (Ian Keatley), in pivotal moments he put us in the right areas and took the three points.

"I thought a lot of the senior, older heads; Tomás (O'Leary), BJ (Botha), Chis' (Mark Chisholm), they held it together out there, Frankie (Saili) in the centre and young Rory (Scannell) had a super game against the in-form centres at the moment in (Stuart) McCloskey and (Luke) Marshall.

"Wins breed confidence and sometimes it's a habit you get into. You run out there and play victim, it was something we were careful not to get into; we wanted to not just play our way out of it, but grind our way out of it and make sure we earned it. That it wasn't an intercept try that got it for us, it was hard work and effort."

There was redemption for Ian Keatley and some satisfaction for his coach that, after taking him out of the firing line against Leinster, the out-half bounced back with a composed and assured performance.

Up against the in-form Jackson, who had a fine game with ball-in-hand before his late efforts on goal went astray, the Dubliner took the smart option with his tactical kicking after half-time, pressurising the home team into mistakes and then punishing them.

His drop-goal midway through the second half narrowed the gap to a point and infused the visitors with belief, while he nailed the kick to win it on the hour-mark.

"Through everyone's career, it's what you do next," Foley said of his No 10 who has been the subject of much discussion, even derision, in recent weeks.

"He's had a tough few weeks, we took him out of the front-line, he went away and reset himself up so hopefully now, going forward, he's got a point he can come back to in his rugby and his mental state of where he was the day he played in Ravenhill."

For Kiss, who had enjoyed such an impressive December, this was a step back and he must deal with the challenge of addressing the issues without 11 of his key players, including McCloskey and Luke Marshall, who are down in Carton House this morning. Oyonnax await on Sunday and he has limited time to prepare.

"We'll still sit in the room with the group that's left and have a good look. I've got no doubt that those guys will come back and look at the video presentation and get back on track," he said.

"They've got a day to do with the national team, that's great for them, but we need to get on with what we need to do up here.

"We've known for a while that they'll be gone and prepared that they will be. We've to mitigate that. I don't think it'll be too tough but they'll miss the review. They'll miss the review; they won't get that immediate feedback that's required. We'll do that early in the week because it's a disappointed dressing room. We didn't deliver what we have been in recent times. We have to be frank about what will get us back to that level."

When Louis Ludik crossed for a contentious first-half try to put his side 7-3 ahead after Lewis Stevenson stole a five-metre lineout following a clever Luke Marshall kick, it looked like the home side could kick on but instead they allowed themselves be squeezed after half-time.

Ruan Pienaar started mercurially, but perhaps his workload in recent weeks told as errors started to creep into his play and once the Springbok made mistakes Ulster looked less sure of themselves.

They did produce some magical plays off set-piece ball, McCloskey was excellent at times as he worked in tandem with Marshall in the centre. Joe Schmidt will have noted both his capacity to hold up opponents in the tackle and turn the ball over and also the tendency to offload at will that led to Ulster losing the ball.

Yet, Munster were able to beat Ulster back at crucial times. Keatley kicked cleverly, the back-row of Jack O'Donoghue, Tommy O'Donnell and CJ Stander - all invited into Ireland camp - thrived, while Mike Sherry was excellent.

Ireland will be the focus of many today, but from tomorrow attention switches to Europe as both teams go to France in need of wins in re-fixed games.

Confidence boosted, Munster hope to have Conor Murray, Donnacha Ryan and Keith Earls back in harness for their visit to Stade, while Ulster have concerns over tighthead prop Wiehann Herbst for the Oyonnax game.

The key thing for Munster, however, was that respect had been restored after a miserable Christmas period. They now have something to build on in 2016.

ULSTER - L Ludik; A Trimble, L Marshall (S Arnold 55), S McCloskey, R Scholes; P Jackson, R Pienaar (P Marshall 72); K McCall (C Black 65), R Best (capt), W Herbst (R Lutton 36); L Stevenson (A O'Connor 53), F van der Merwe; R Diack (R Wilson 53), C Henry, N Williams (R Herring 72).

MUNSTER - L Amorosino; G van den Heever, F Saili, R Scannell (D Hurley 58), R O'Mahony; I Keatley, T O'Leary (D Williams 58); D Kilcoyne, M Sherry (N Scannell 57), BJ Botha (J Ryan 72); D Foley, M Chisholm; J O'Donoghue, T O'Donnell (R Copeland 57), CJ Stander (capt) (R Copeland 17-28).

Ref - G Conway (IRFU)

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