Tuesday 22 January 2019

Munster desperate to solve away-day blues in Belfast

Jaco Taute will captain Munster for the first time this evening. Photo: Sportsfile
Jaco Taute will captain Munster for the first time this evening. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

There is no place like home and, as Munster have found out to their cost so far this season, winning on the road does not come easy.

Their bid to cure their away-day blues doesn't get any easier this evening as they travel north to take on an in-form Ulster outfit, who have named far more of their front-line internationals in their starting XV than Munster have.

As has been the case with the majority of festive derbies in recent years, the home team is generally afforded the luxury of being able to call on the big guns, while the visitors dig deep into their talent pool.

With the IRFU's player management programme controlling their players' minutes, Johann van Graan will be hopeful that he can call on more of his heavy hitters for the clash against Leinster at Thomond Park next weekend.

Bullied

As it is, however, the Munster head coach has made 13 changes from the side who were bullied into submission by Castres last weekend.

The defeat in France was Munster's fourth loss from seven away games this season - a record that is becoming increasingly concerning.

Thomond Park will always be a fortress, but Van Graan's side are currently struggling to find the right balance between their home and away form.

They will go into what is a pivotal Champions Cup clash at Kingsholm next month without a European away win to their name, which puts an even greater emphasis on the two upcoming games on the road against Ulster and Connacht.

For Ulster, it is all about maintaining the momentum that they have built up from their impressive back-to-back wins over the Scarlets.

While they still have a bit to go before dining at the top table, there is no doubt that Dan McFarland is beginning to put his stamp on a team who are showing plenty of potential.

"Ulster are playing really well at home, they've thumped quite a few teams up there," Van Graan warned.

"I think the challenge for all teams across Europe, specifically in Ireland, will be the block of two European games, the three interprovincial derbies and then two European games again - how you manage that to make sure that once you get to Gloucester and Exeter, with enough legs in your squad to come through those games."

Since suffering a second serious knee injury, Jaco Taute has almost become a forgotten man at Munster, but it says a lot about his influence around the squad that he captains the team for the first time this evening.

There is a welcome return from injury for Darren Sweetnam (back), who will be eager to make up for lost time and impress Joe Schmidt, while flanker Conor Oliver (foot) is also back after a spell on the sidelines.

Munster's lineout has faltered badly in recent weeks and having lost seven of their own throws in the last two games alone, there is a big onus on hooker Kevin O'Byrne and the returning Jean Kleyn (thumb) to get the set-piece right.

McFarland has largely shown faith with the same team who beat Scarlets. Will Addison and Stuart McCloskey continue their budding midfield partnership, while so too do John Cooney and Billy Burns at half-back.

Up front, Jordi Murphy is nearing a return to his best form while, unsurprisingly, the fit-again Marcell Coetzee has added plenty of ballast to the Ulster pack.

For confidence levels alone, Munster can ill-afford to resume their Champions Cup campaign without another away win to their name.

They will find it difficult to pick that up in Belfast against an Ulster side desperate to exact revenge for the humiliation they suffered at the hands of Munster earlier this season.

Verdict: Ulster

Ulster - L Ludik; H Speight, W Addison, S McCloskey, R Baloucoune; B Burns, J Cooney; E O'Sullivan, R Herring (capt), M Moore; I Nagle, K Treadwell; S Reidy, J Murphy, M Coetzee. Reps: R Best, K McCall, R Kane, C Ross, N Timoney, D Shanahan, J McPhillips, J Hume.

Munster - M Haley; D Sweetnam, S Arnold, J Taute (capt), A Wootton; JJ Hanrahan, A Mathewson; J Loughman, K O'Byrne, S Archer; J Kleyn, D O'Shea; F Wycherley, C Oliver, A Botha. Reps: M Sherry, D Kilcoyne, C Parker, G Coombes, T O'Donnell, N Cronin, B Johnston, S Daly.

Ulster v Munster, Live, eir Sport, 7.35

Irish Independent

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