Friday 20 September 2019

Van Graan: Leinster are the team Munster aspire to be

Robert Baloucoune, scoring Ulster’s second try against Munster, was shown yellow for his challenge on Darren Sweetnam. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Robert Baloucoune, scoring Ulster’s second try against Munster, was shown yellow for his challenge on Darren Sweetnam. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Friday's festive fare was not exactly quality street hard by the Ravenhill Road - a bit like sticking your hand in the tin and always ending up with the coffee sweet.

Both sides ended the game frantically chasing a bonus point when neither really deserved one.

Van Graan: ‘Let me just put it this way. We didn’t lose the game because of one call.’ Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Van Graan: ‘Let me just put it this way. We didn’t lose the game because of one call.’ Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

And the officials won't be getting slaps on the back either; neither coaching box would have been happy with their officiating, for different reasons.

There is likely to be - and should be - a citing complaint listed against young Enniskillen speedster Robert Baloucoune after he upended Darren Sweetnam right on the kick-off; his case might be a difficult one to argue.

Ulster were underwhelming. They would have targeted a bonus-point win but flattered to deceive compared to the scintillating performances which had harvested 10 points in Europe against the Scarlets during the previous fortnight.

And, while Munster were mightily pleased to bag a bonus point for the long drive into the night, a second successive tryless performance, notwithstanding the vastly changed line-up, reflected once again a toothless attacking game which threatens to undermine their title tilts as a New Year dawns.


Just as it had done in this fixture a year earlier, a refereeing call might have altered the circumstances dramatically; 12 months earlier Sean Gallagher red-carded Sam Arnold and Munster coughed up a substantial lead to allow Ulster to sprint for home.

This time around, Gallagher decided to opt for discretion, perhaps unwittingly influenced by the possibility of making such a significant call after merely 11 seconds.

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"Let me put it this way," said Van Graan, faced with a second successive week addressing substantial discipline issues.

"We didn't lose the game because of one call. Player welfare is very important, and whether an incident happens in the first or last minute you just want consistency.

"A citing commissioner is in place and the protocols will take place. It is frustrating but that is the way that rugby works. We have a job to do and we just have to make sure we do it well."

Whatever might happen this week, any delayed justice, as happened in the aftermath of the belated double citings arising from the Castres defeat, will arrive too late for Van Graan's side.

His opposite number Dan McFarland seemed slightly unnerved by the decision too; moments after being prompted to concede to the TV cameras that his man might have seen red, he was entirely more bullish during his next media engagement.

"It was definitely a yellow card, we can't have any complaints," he reiterated. Informed of his counterpart's query, McFarland swiftly countered. "Yeah, he's wrong."

It is an argument that will linger; McFarland's real frustration was that the argument over the result lasted much longer than it should have given the disparity in selection and form.

The Ulster coach reeled off a list of complaints about the breakdown officiating in a first half of stunning ineptitude from both sides, complaining that Munster persistently targeted his scrum-half, or else came in from the side, or deployed "double dips" - poachers returning for an illegal second bite of the cherry - when in essence his side's lack of physical intensity was the real issue.

"We're a little disappointed," he added. "I was very impressed with Munster's physicality in the first half. They put us under a bit of pressure, hit our ball carriers and as a consequence it was a bit messy at the breakdown.

"When we got quick ball we showed we could cause them trouble, but we came out in the second half determined to speed the ball up and I think we showed in the second half that we were capable of scoring tries."

Still, they needed a gifted knock-on from Mike Haley to pave the way for the first of two close-in maul efforts on a night when their attack misfired against a side who were content to defend without offering much in attack themselves.

"That's the way they needed to go," stressed McFarland. "It took 40 minutes to change that up but fortunately we had a dominant maul. That was a weapon that when we were able to put into practice we made good use of it."

As Munster prepare for what Van Graan expects to be a full-strength Leinster side, he was keen to stress that Munster haven't lost a home match since the same fixture a year ago; Friday's reverse, however, meant that their away-day blues continued: only Zebre and Cheetahs have been downed outside Limerick or Cork this term.

"I'm not a guy who makes predictions normally but I believe this will be Leinster versus Munster at full strength. Both teams will be as close to fully-loaded as can be," he said.

"Obviously some of our guys need a two-week break. But we are so looking forward to playing them at home again.

"I thought we played really well against them in the Aviva. We conceded an early yellow and 14 points. Then we got back to five but conceded a penalty from the kick-off.

"We respect them and if you are the PRO 14 and European champions, they are the team we aspire to be."

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