Tuesday 23 July 2019

Leinster could provide Van Graan with a 'reality check'

Munster 64 Ulster 7

Sammy Arnold of Munster celebrates after scoring his side’s seventh try despite the tackle of Ulster’s Eric O’Sullivan during Saturday night’s PRO14 clash at Thomond Park. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Sammy Arnold of Munster celebrates after scoring his side’s seventh try despite the tackle of Ulster’s Eric O’Sullivan during Saturday night’s PRO14 clash at Thomond Park. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

CIan Ttracey

Five games into the new season and it's fair to say that no one really has a firm grasp on where Munster stand in the grand scheme of things.

"I feel it's hard to tell as well," Billy Holland agrees.

Munster's form has been so erratic that they remain a completely different team on the road compared to at home, where they have racked up a seriously impressive 151 points in three games.

Yet the fact remains that they have barely been tested on their home turf and with two tough away trips to Leinster and Exeter coming up, they are desperate to strike a balance in terms of consistency.

Ulster's Tom O'Toole battles against CJ Stander of Munster at Thomond Park. Photo: John Dickson/Sportsfile
Ulster's Tom O'Toole battles against CJ Stander of Munster at Thomond Park. Photo: John Dickson/Sportsfile

How much they will have learned from Saturday's facile nine-try demolition of a young Ulster team remains to be seen, but it did at least ensure that they banished the memories of their sub-par showing in Cardiff.

Even still, there were plenty of positives to take from Thomond Park. The pack dominated Ulster, with the set-piece looking much stronger.

As well as that, they used the maul to great effect, which was helped by big performances from the likes of Peter O'Mahony, Billy Holland and Tommy O'Donnell, who scored two tries and looked in great nick.

Alby Mathewson stamped his class all over proceedings, and even threw a one-handed, quarterback style pass from a quick lineout that Tom Brady would have been proud of.

Munster look to have done a shrewd bit of business by getting the former All Blacks scrum-half in as injury-cover for Conor Murray.

Despite his lack of game time in recent months, Mathewson is set to play a key role in the coming weeks and it was no surprise to see Joey Carbery benefiting from playing alongside an experienced head.

Munster's Tadhg Beirne is tackled by Darren Cave of Ulster. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Munster's Tadhg Beirne is tackled by Darren Cave of Ulster. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

With Joe Schmidt watching on, Carbery conjured up another moment of magic with a sensational second-half try. Afterwards, Johann van Graan spoke of the budding relationship between Munster's out-half and Mathewson.

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"I believe in people and you have got to invest in people first before you look at the rugby," the South African head coach maintained.

"I had a chat with Alby on the field at captain's (run) and you see the value of the man. He said 'Joey and I spoke about one or two things on Monday and Tuesday, and this is the solution that we found'.

"Joey said that now Andrew (Conway) is in, we have to adapt one or two of our plans and that is brilliant to you as a coach, to see guys take ownership and come up with solutions.

"The easy thing is to spot a problem, the difficult thing is to come up with a solution, so in terms of 9-10-15, 2-5-8, I thought we were pretty good tonight."

Munster's Keith Earls is tackled by Peter Nelson of Ulster. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Munster's Keith Earls is tackled by Peter Nelson of Ulster. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Neither Leinster nor Exeter will be bullied into submission as easily as Ulster, and Van Graan knows that.

Like Billy Holland and everyone else, Van Graan concurred that it was quite difficult to get a handle on where Munster stand as we enter a crucial period of the season. "I'll tell you after the next two weeks," the Munster boss smiled when asked what shape he felt his side were in.

"It's difficult to say. The only one now is Leinster, the best side in Europe, the best side in the Guinness PRO14. What more can you say about them? Munster haven't won in the Aviva for quite a while so it's a great challenge from our point of view. They are a side we respect a lot. We're looking forward to it.

"It (our form) is a difficult one to get your head around because we can't really control a lot of that. All that we can control is our form and as a squad we said it is no good to go one up and one down, we want to be consistent.

"Consistency is one of the words we targeted throughout pre-season, so we will look for a consistent 80-minute performance next Saturday.

"Once we started the pre-season you kinda look at the champions of Europe and the champions of PRO14.

Munster's Dan Goggin scores his side's first try. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Munster's Dan Goggin scores his side's first try. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

"In that semi-final we came within one point, they were better than us on that day. We are looking forward to the opportunity to play against them.

"When you go away in the Aviva against the best team in Europe, it is a reality check."

Munster scored nine tries to Ulster's one. O'Donnell and Dan Goggin both scored a first-half brace to seal the bonus point before the break.

Darren Cave's consolation score was cancelled out by further tries from O'Mahony, Sammy Arnold, Keith Earls, Alex Wootton and the pick of the bunch from Carbery, who left the field to another rapturous ovation. Munster supporters have certainly warmed to their new out-half.

"I actually learned a lot," Van Graan insisted.

"This game keeps you humble. You've got to learn every single day. You learn about individuals, you learn about situations and rugby presents you with different opportunities and different challenges. In terms of the game, we had to relook at how we do one or two things.

"I don't think last week knocked our confidence, we are a very confident group. We have got big dreams and I said from the beginning, a man has got to dream big because big dreams make a man's blood stir.

"It wasn't really a confidence knock, it was more 'listen, that wasn't good enough'.

"We'll enjoy tonight, reassess on Monday morning (and see) where we are and then go to a pretty tough challenge next Saturday.

"I watched them (Leinster) quite a bit over the last 48 hours.

"Impressive side, almost their full Test side so that will be a massive challenge for us."

Munster - A Conway; K Earls, D Goggin, R Scannell (S Arnold 64), A Wootton; J Carbery (I Keatley 66), A Mathewson (D Williams 52); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 52), N Scannell (K O'Byrne 64), S Archer (C Parker 64); T Beirne (J Kleyn 59), B Holland; P O'Mahony (capt), T O'Donnell (A Botha 64), CJ Stander

Ulster - P Nelson (M Lowry h-t); C Gilroy, D Cave, A Curtis (C Ross 74), A Kernohan; B Burns (J Hume 66), J Cooney (D Shanahan 34); A Warwick (E O'Sullivan, 64), A McBurney (J Andrew 66), R Kane (T O'Toole h-t); A O'Connor (capt), I Henderson (K Treadwell 20); M Rea, N Timoney, J Deysel

Ref - D Jones (Wales)

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