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More than bragging rights down for decision

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Munster head coach Anthony Foley and players add some weight to the scrummaging machine during squad training ahead of Friday's Guinness PRO12, Round 9, match against Ulster

Munster head coach Anthony Foley and players add some weight to the scrummaging machine during squad training ahead of Friday's Guinness PRO12, Round 9, match against Ulster

SPORTSFILE

Munster head coach Anthony Foley and players add some weight to the scrummaging machine during squad training ahead of Friday's Guinness PRO12, Round 9, match against Ulster

Tonight at Thomond Park promises to be a typical Irish inter-pro derby. Both sides will be keen to get one over on each other, and both squads will be hoping to face into the Champions Cup double-header week on the back of a positive result.

The fact that this is a meeting of second-placed Ulster and us in third means there is plenty more up for grabs than bragging rights. We have looked at this week's fixtures and we understand that there could be plenty of movement in the table after this round.

Elsewhere, the team in first place, Ospreys, are playing Leinster who are fifth in the RDS, and Connacht in sixth are playing Scarlets in fifth. There will be a bit of reshaping in the Pro12 before we go into Europe, so our focus is just on getting a result against Ulster. But we know it will take a massive effort from the whole squad to do that.

This week we have been boosted by the return of all the lads who have been on international duty in November, although we won't see some of them until next week. But they have all come back with a smile on their faces and with a pep in their step. They have had an excellent month above in Dublin.

The group have had fine results in the green shirt in the last few weeks and long may it continue - into and beyond the Six Nations hopefully. We were delighted to see the lads performing at that level and hopefully we can continue to contribute to the squad over the next period.

But that will all come from playing well and performing for Munster. It is a big two months for us and the team's form will dictate how many more players manage to get into the Irish squad.

We are fortunate to have strength and depth across our squad and there is always a boost when players continue the good form when internationals are away. I think that our performance in the first game of this latest block has left the squad in good shape and the lads carried the momentum from the last month or so into the win in Dragons.

It took us a little bit of time to settle though. We learned a lot in the first half and we came out and controlled the second half in terms of where the game was played and the tempo of the game. That was pleasing to see.

Patience

In a game like that patience is crucial, but it was another P word, 'possession', that proved key. In the first half we turned over set-piece ball, we kicked the ball out on the full and we didn't cherish the ball. In the second half we had a different mind-set though. We contested more, we looked after our set-piece, we built a good game on the back of that and it allowed us get into good positions to score. We want that to continue again tonight.

As a unit I was happy with the performance of the back-row, but you would have to take your hat off to the front-row of John Ryan, Stephen Archer and Duncan Casey. Along with the second-row, they set the tone for that second-half display. In the backs, Ronan O'Mahony had a great game as well as Andrew Smith, and with Ian Keatley taking all points on offer the lads really stepped forward for us in Wales.

Unfortunately, Barry O'Mahony had to undergo surgery on his broken ankle in the lead-up to that game, but he is getting the best of care and hopefully we will see Barry back on the pitch before too long. We wish him all the best in his recovery.

Like the senior team, the Munster 'A's are in action this weekend when they take on Nottingham in the B&I Cup at Temple Hill tomorrow afternoon at 3pm. It's a big game for them to get out of their pool. Hopefully they can put in a good display and get a result that helps them with their progression.

Tonight will be a tough outing, though; it always is against Ulster. They did well last week to beat Ospreys - their first loss of the season - in a game played in very difficult conditions.

At times in the second half they were under a bit of pressure but credit to Doak's men they closed out the game well and managed to get a very good result at home.

We remember the defeats at home and away to them last year and we just want to make sure we don't have a repeat of it this year. We want to start building a platform for ourselves in Thomond Park and hopefully we can get the Munster crowd behind us.

We want to give our supporters something to shout about on these big nights in our season.

Irish Independent