Conway shows class but Hanrahan blow disrupts Reds
Munster 22 Ulster 16
A year ago, Munster were settling Joey Carbery into the 10 shirt, rolling him off the bench a couple of times before his 13 starts in a playmaking role that had been unthinkable in Leinster. By the time they opened their European campaign against Exeter, he had four starts back-to-back. Problem solved for Munster and for Ireland. All good.
Now Carbery is starring in a soap opera running from episode to episode with injury as the primary plot line. Unfortunately, JJ Hanrahan has been written into the story. He is due to be scanned today on a hamstring injury picked up when being emptied by Ulster's Matt Faddes - on time, according to referee Frank Murphy; late, according to Johann van Graan - leaving Tyler Bleyendaal as Munster's sole front-line out-half.
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Van Graan hasn't ruled out the possibility of writing a cheque for a short-term replacement, but this is not the January Sales of rugby.
"Possibly," the coach said about maybe going shopping. "Rory Scannell can cover 10 as well. He has played at 10 for Munster before. He is a very good goal kicker. The next option is Ben Healy, which would be exciting if we need to swap in. That's currently our options. Worst-case scenario we have a few nines who can play 10, like Neil Cronin."
Healy mixed it up at 10 for Ireland along with Munster colleague Jake Flannery at the Under-20 World Cup in the summer. A fine footballer, throwing Healy onto the bench in Swansea on Saturday, where Munster open their European campaign, would stretch the "exciting" tag to something entirely different.
Otherwise Dave Kilcoyne, injured in training last week, Tadhg Beirne and Keith Earls all are in the hopeful category to toe the line against Allen Clarke's Ospreys who have taken flight just once this season, in six attempts.
Losing at home to the Kings gave the South Africans their first away win in this competition. In the circumstances Van Graan could be forgiven for not sweating over whoever he earmarks as back-up to Bleyendaal.
Scannell - whose left boot got them out of trouble against Ulster - is the obvious and safest choice. The advantage of having a left-footed footballer at 12 is a bonus every team would like. Scannell had a good game but stood aside gracefully to hold Andrew Conway's coat as the wing nailed a game that had got out of control.
His scorching effort against Toulouse in Europe last year still leads Conway's highlights reel, but this effort, slaloming past three tackles on a 40-something-metre journey through the Ulster defence, was as well timed as it was executed. It secured the win for Munster, allowing Ulster out the gap with a losing bonus point which was a whole lot better than the dismemberment they had suffered in this fixture last season.
Ulster are not without their own issues at 10, which explained Angus Curtis - who had a mixed night - making his first start in the position.
The next few days will clarify how they are fixed for the spin to Bath. Interestingly, Dan McFarland described - flatteringly - that challenge as "swapping one European fortress for another" as part of his team's process of ramping up their game. First they'll need to be better at keeping hold of what they've worked so hard to secure.
"To put yourself in the position at 63/64 minutes and you're a point ahead, the game's there for the taking, and then to lose it is really disappointing," McFarland said. "But ultimately we turned the ball over in contact too much. Not handling errors; not passing errors - just in the bang and the bash of contact. If you do that you cede opportunities for Munster to get on the front foot and they did more than us. I felt if we'd held on more to the ball we were threatening enough to cause them problems."
You suspect Ulster could have been ushered out the gate had the home side taken advantage of a five-metre lineout just before the break. Munster were 15-6 ahead at the time thanks to tries from CJ Stander and Scannell, but the ball flew just above its target and Ulster survived.
They managed to ride out a mini crisis with their own lineout early in the second half and when John Cooney started chipping away at Munster's lead, the picture changed - dramatically so when Rob Herring got over.
So Conway's intrusion, to overhaul Ulster's 16-15 lead, was greeted with delight by the crowd of 14,436 - including non-attending season ticket holders. Had more turned up they could have witnessed Conway's extraordinary finish at first hand.
Munster - M Haley; A Conway, C Farrell, R Scannell, G Coombes; JJ Hanrahan (T Bleyendaal 30), A Mathewson (C Murray 56); J Cronin (J Loughman 54), N Scannell (K O'Byrne 71), J Ryan (S Archer 54), J Kleyn (F Wycherley 48), B Holland, P O'Mahony (capt), CJ Stander (A Botha 70), C Cloete (J O'Donoghue 54).
Ulster - M Faddes; R Lyttle, L Marshall, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; A Curtis (B Johnston 79), J Cooney (D Shanahan 79); J McGrath (E O'Sullivan 57), R Herring (capt, A McBurney 54), M Moore (T O'Toole 54), A O'Connor (K Treadwell 57), S Carter, S Reidy, N Timoney, J Murphy.
Ref - F Murphy (IRFU)