Guinness Pro 12: December 31st Thoughts

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Munster find a way to win the West Coast derby

It was far from pretty where the scrum was smashed at various junctures but Munster’s experimental side came out on top in a windswept Sportsground. Munster started this contest in positive fashion when the conditions allowed them to run the ball in hand. Their first passage of play led to the opening penalty and illustrated Goggins’ undoubted talent at three quarters. The movement and passing was swift from Munster and the hosts were scrambling so much so that O’Halloran had to kill the ball on the wrong side of the ruck. Given the early proceedings, the full back was lucky not to get a yellow but a repeat performance in Toulouse will certainly result in one.

Keatley at ten showed his experience of playing at the Lough Atalia venue with a composed outing; his penalty kicking was on point and provided game management to his pack when required. The new squad additions all raised their hand with commendable performances. The scrum was the one facet of play which really was exposed. Bealham, McCartney and Buckley went to task on the Munster scrum early doors and on another day, Munster could have had a player sin binned from their front row. It was extremely kind officiating to say the least which did not result in this happening.

Munster top of the league and their game winning try rubbed salt into the Connacht wounds with a close range maul effort; something that the hosts failed to do when the ties were level at 6-6. Fine margins and Munster were more clinical when presented with their try chance. A tough fixture out of the way for Rassie Erasmus; great return of nine points in the last two games particularly because the side assembled which came to Galway was quite experimental in nature. Tommy O’Donnell injury aside, job done and move onto an emotional preparation for the trip to Racing Metro.

Connacht team selections backfire

When news filtered through that John Muldoon was summoned for action after passing a late fitness test, I thought it was a joke. Muldoon had not trained since the Ulster loss before Christmas but Pat Lam and management team felt compelled to throw their talisman into a fierce local derby match with crucial European Cup fixtures looming large.

Muldoon’s cameo was as good as it could be; abrasive in tackling and ball carrying but you sense how much damage this will do the player and team this month. With Dillane out for an extended period, surely conservationism should have being the call on Muldoon. What is the ambition at Connacht this season?

I am not totally sure after this team selection. The province are in prime position to advance to the last eight of the ERC but the list of injuries is lengthy and the fact that they would risk another talisman in a fixture which was already diluted given both sides’ squad does little in confidence for the team.

Connacht threw the kitchen sink at Munster whose side was experimental but their lack of precision and game management was exposed. Carty at ten needs serious competition; his penalty kicking is inconsistent at best. The fact that Connacht went for it at 6-6 was part bravery but also part because of Carty’s low successful penalty kicking record.

The Bosch injury is massive at fly-half for the province and with McGinty gone to Sale, the ten spot is exposed in terms of squad depth. Connacht will be hoping that the lengthy injury list subsides but when you take chances of clearly unfit players on game day like Muldoon, what more do you expect? Trust your academy, Pat!

Leinster bounce back

With a completely different first fifteen at Cullen / Lancaster’s disposal, Leinster comfortably cruised to victory over Ulster at the RDS. It was a facile victory; the hosts pack were superior throughout. Toner massive at set-piece. Cronin with ball in hand was sublime and it opened massive gaps in Ulster’s defense. Leinster’s game plan was akin to Clermont, smash Ulster up the middle with their pack knowing that gaps out wide would appear.

It was a lethargic start from Ulster; pack again exposed with Rodney Ah You struggling in open and set piece. The back row tried to gain breakdown parity but Leinster were truly dominant. Heaslip was typically workmanlike, tackle count and ball carries high. Ringrose and Nacewa were provided ample ball to impress from Eric Byrne and it was good to see Adam Byrne get more game time; athletic and pace to burn, a shrewd squad selection from Leinster management this season.

Leinster again showed that they are the best equipped squad to seriously challenge for European Cup honors. Their pack to a man has no weak points. Abrasive front row in McGrath, Cronin, Furlong and with the likes of Tracy / Strauss, Healy waiting for their chance, it is some selection. Toner is the pivotal figure in the front five. His lineout ability is sublime but his work rate in the close exchanges has stood out this season. The back row is stacked with internationals.

An exciting back line featuring Henshaw, Ringrose but it is Nacewa who is providing the leadership for this unit; composed and quality goal kicker in the absence of Sexton which is the only issue for Leinster leading into an exciting European Cup pool phase. Home quarter final surely will be secured before the end of the month.

Exciting times in the RDS. Lancaster’s defensive and line speed coaching to the fore this season and with ball handling in attacking positions improving, Leinster are a dark horse for European Cup honors.

Ulster – Opportunity Lost? Enigma

I am not sure if Paddy Jackson would have being able to stem the tide in the RDS given how bad the front five were beaten up in the trenches. It must be frustrating for Kiss and management on where the problem is with Ulster. The province have undoubted talent, excellent squad depth but the side has failed to catch fire for a full eighty minutes this season.

A poor start again. Yes, there was a rousing of sorts in the third quarter but the damage had being well and truly done as Leinster were already twenty points plus up on the board. Pienaar is a massive loss for the province next season; tragic that the player cannot extend his tenure with Ulster. Ireland Rugby needs players of this caliber to bring on the indigenous youth coming through. The fact that Taute has being renewed with Munster will only increase the frustration levels at Kingspan.

There is no quick fix for Ulster; front five in particular the prop positions need to be reviewed. Ah You is a bust signing, minimal scrum impact and his ball carrying has being non-existent in recent outings. Opposition are picking holes in the propping areas currently and Ulster need to be shrewd in this department in the off-season; penalty guzzler and no platform can be created for Pienaar / Jackson to unleash a superb back line feature McCloskey, Marshall, Bowe, Payne, Piatau. If Kiss does not get this right soon, Ulster could have a Munster season of last year; out of everything, unexcited fan base at games and the performances on the game day will suffer.