Friday 24 May 2019

Tony Ward: 'Uninspired Munster may rue failure to pick up bonus point against rag-bag Castres side'

 

9 December 2018; Munster captain Peter O'Mahony applauds the crowd after the European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 2 Round 3 match between Munster and Castres at Thomond Park in Limerick. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
9 December 2018; Munster captain Peter O'Mahony applauds the crowd after the European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 2 Round 3 match between Munster and Castres at Thomond Park in Limerick. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

It's a sign of the times. A clean sweep of European wins over the weekend - two on the road - yet it all felt a little flat. Maybe it's the month that preceded it. We have been spoilt.

All four provinces are in with a realistic chance of reaching the knockout stages, and that is not something to be sniffed at.

At Thomond Park, Munster won pulling up in a scruffy, error-ridden, low-tempo encounter. Lots of determination and territorial domination but precious little to show for it.

This was a game where the bonus point was lost rather than the match points won against a rag-bag Castres side.

The loss of the two star turns - Chris Farrell and Joey Carbery - before kick-off was a big blow to Munster and seemed to suck much of the atmosphere out of Thomond.

Credit JJ Hanrahan for an accomplished 20-point performance, given his last-minute inclusion.

A win is a win but this was not one to live too long in the memory.

I feel Leinster put in a more substantial display than they have been credited with at Bath,

It was a case of job done. It wasn't pretty, but you can blame the conditions for that.

And for me, that's the beauty of Leinster: whether it is spring sunshine in the RDS or a December storm in Bath, the willingness to get down and get dirty reflects the standards set by top-quality coaching and competition in almost every position.

If there was one flaw it related to the back-row where the experiment of three flankers (with Dan Leavy switching to No 8) looked lopsided.

That's no reflection on Leavy just the need for a Jack Conan, Max Deegan or Caelan Doris starting in what still remains a specialist position.

The outstanding Irish performance of the weekend came from Ulster.

At Parc y Scarlets on Friday night, they deserved to win by more than a single point (25-24). They were superb in the first half.

Into the stiff gale blowing through west Wales, Ulster were magnificent in the opening quarter, with Will Addison a worthy man of the match.

Again much credit should go to David Nucifora and those working behind the scenes at the IRFU for attracting Addison - and Munster full-back Mike Haley, also English-born - to Irish rugby.

Where the FAI are coming up short with their recruitment efforts, the IRFU seem to get all their ducks lined up in a row.

In difficult conditions against Scarlets, Addison was the shining light in terms of creativity. Playing at outside centre, the versatile former Sale man provided the break for Jacob Stockdale's try - and the finish was right out of the top drawer.

Stockdale is such a natural talent on the left wing, chipping with or stepping off that lethal left peg, and his innate strength and clever deployment put him in the Jonah Lomu nightmare-to-stop category.

Yes, the physiques are different but Stockdale has the same ability to turn on the power when required, plus the bloody determination to make things happen. At 22 and scoring for fun at all levels, the world is his oyster.

But from Rory Best through Iain Henderson to Jordi Murphy and John Cooney, all of the front-line returnees were on song - and that is as it should be.

The result was another step forward in Ulster's rehabilitation under Dan McFarland.

Irish Independent

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