Thursday 22 February 2018

Players can bounce back

Ulster provide chance to get back on track

Munster players (l-r) Francis Saili, Mike Sherry, Mark Chisholm and Niall Scannell during squad training in UL
Munster players (l-r) Francis Saili, Mike Sherry, Mark Chisholm and Niall Scannell during squad training in UL
Ian Keatley

David Wallace

It doesn't come much tougher that Ulster in the Pro12 and they have had a great record at Thomond Park in recent seasons.

It's very different for players, but as a spectator you always feel that the first inter-pro tie is the dawning of the season-proper, and the temperature heats up a few notches.

Things had been ticking along nicely for Munster up until last weekend when they got caught out by Scarlets. On the face of it it's not the worst result in the world - a top of the table clash away from home, and Munster pick up a losing bonus point. But that doesn't paint the full picture.

Munster won't be happy with just the losing bonus point, you're never happy to lose a game, and especially when you are 10-0 up early on, and leading with two minutes left after Ian Keatley kicked a late penalty.

But there was a little bit of naivety surrounding the concession of a late kickable penalty. And that's something Munster need to eradicate as the games get more intense now, with the return of the international contingent for all teams.

There's been a slight under-current of that throughout the season so for Munster, and a few weeks ago against Glasgow it was really highlighted. The number of penalties conceded at the breakdown wasn't good enough, albeit some of them were unfair. I think Munster need to be cuter with their work around there.

Munster's attack has been prolific this season and they have been scoring points and tries and that's a real positive, but on the flip side the defence has been too porous. Games that we should have won easily have come down to the wire. There needs to be a bit more time spent working on defence, but the international lads coming back will add a lot of experience out wide.

Everyone talks about the detail in the Irish camp, and how Joe Schmidt is so persistent about the discipline of his team. So with Simon Zebo, Conor Murray, Keith Earls and Donnacha Ryan about to slot back in, it will surely make a difference.

In terms of attack Munster have already been very impressive so far this season, even without this quartet. So it's exciting to think of possibilities when everyone fits back in.


Tyler Bleyendaal and Francis Saili have really stood out with their creativity, and offensive nous, so when you add Zebo and Earls to the party, it looks like a fearsome attacking unit.

But Munster need to work with what they have and in this game the defence needs to be shored up. From one to 15, Ulster possess threats all over the pitch.

That all originates from the go forward that Nick Williams gives them, and he is coming back to form again now. Ulster will look to set their platform off the pack, and the personal battles are going to be huge.

BJ Botha, played for them in the past and he is a key figure for Munster here again.

Even though lads are just out of the World Cup I'm sure they'll be thinking about their places in Six Nations squad and inter-pros are vital for this.

It's going to be a huge game and I can't wait for it, and I'll be watching from the warm confines of McGettigan's Bar in Dubai. It will be a bit of a change from a cold evening in Limerick, but I know I'll be missing a fantastic atmosphere in the biggest game so far this season.

The special thing about these inter-pros, is you're playing against your friends, and guys you would have played with in the Irish set-up. The collisions will be ferocious, and friendships will definitely be put on the back-burner for this game.

Elsewhere the World Cup final takes place tomorrow too, and it's amazing to think that this is the first time New Zealand and Australia have faced off in the final.

The All Blacks have been the dominant force in world rugby in the last four years, so that makes them slight favourites in my book.

But Australia have the firepower to turn over New Zealand as we saw in the Rugby Championship so they won't feat their great rivals, but I'm still tipping New Zealand to shade it. The battle of the back-rows will be worth the attendance fee alone.

Irish Independent

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