BIG WEEKEND: Munster Vs Ulster Preview

Written by Conal Lane


Surviving by the skin of their teeth, the men in red managed to eke out a 10-7 victory against a gritty Glasgow side who now have a tough task to make the PRO12 playoffs. It wasn’t exactly vintage viewing in Cork last week, but the 16th man was treated to an outstanding man of the match display from Conor Oliver and a bright 50 minute cameo from loanee Jean Deysel, including a monster carry into Glasgow’s Ryan Wilson. Match fitness did seem to be an issue for big JD and hopefully a decent spell off the bench this weekend will see him ready to bosh against Saracens monster pack on the 22nd. This Saturday sees the antepenultimate round of Pro12 fixtures take place, and it’s the usual interprovincial double header with Munster vs Ulster and Connacht entertaining Leinster at the Sportsground. The Welsh regions are at it too with all four teams in action at the Millenium Stadium in a “Magic Weekend” of sorts. Anyway, the men in red have named a surprisingly strong team just a week out from a make or break European semifinal against the current holders Saracens. Most concerning however is the absence of Conor Murray & CJ Stander, and the outstandingly named Rassie Erasmus did little to ease our collective fears about their fitness during the week. Given the weekend that’s in it, let us have a quick word to the big guy in the sky and pledge to give up drink on Good Friday (next year) if he pulls the lads through.

After a pretty drab draw against Cardiff last week, Ulster come into this fixture in dire need of a victory to bolster their playoff hopes. Devoid of probably Ireland’s best fullback in Jared Payne, Ireland U20 star Jacob Stockdale gets his chance to stretch the legs over the Thomond Park turf in an exciting backline which, on paper at least, looks to be an even match between the two sides. The northern province have just a single victory in their last five interprovincials & are on a five match losing streak to the men in red, dating all the way back to May 2014.

Player Focus

Munster: Peter O’Mahony, Tommy O’Donnell, Jack O’Donoghue

Ulster: Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Sean Reidy

Seeing as both sides sets of back row forwards are pretty well balanced, have almost equal numbers of provincial caps individually and in total (279 to 288) and indeed each player has about the same level of international experience too, I’ve decided to compare both back rows as a unit rather than individually.

Captain of Munster, probable future captain of Ireland Peter O’Mahony was built for these occasions. Occasions being a tight game at the business end of the season. Iain Henderson may not be looked upon as captain material, but rest assured he will relish this weekend’s clash with his equally abrasive colleague. Both men vindicated their selection in the final round of the recently concluded Six Nations with an outstanding display, particularly in the lineout where both men give up a considerable amount of height to some of their counterparts and indeed opponents. Both men are athletic individuals possessing a fearsome tackle and strength that belies their wiry frames.

There was once a time not so long ago, where Chris Henry was considered by many to be Ireland’s premier “pure” openside flanker. Some may say he still is but at 32 the twilight years are approaching and it is difficult to envisage him wearing a green jumper in the near future. Similarly Tommy O’Donnell had been the go-to man for Joe Schmidt when messrs Henry and Sean O’Brien were injured or otherwise unavailable. Both men are tigrish in their pursuit of the ball from a downed opponent and possess equal amounts of pace, oft popping up as an auxiliary centre from a shortened lineout. A great groundhog battle to be witnessed this weekend, that’s for sure.

And now to the least experienced and probably least alike players on both teams, funny how the number 8 jumper takes all kinds isn’t it! Sean Reidy has made 55 Ulster appearances and has one Irish cap. Jack O’Donoghue has made 58 Munster appearances and has one Irish cap. Similarities end there folks. Reidy is 6ft 106kg absolute wrecking ball of an 8, thunderous carrying and little to no regard for his own wellbeing in the tackle. Will likely be shifted to the side of the scrum to accommodate Arno Botha and the returning (again) Marcel Coetzee for next season. Bad idea in my humble opinion, Reidy has grown into the number 8 role massively over the last two seasons. Conversely, Jack O’Donoghue is an athletic, intelligent 8 in the mould of the great Imanol Harinordoquy, often a link player between his pack and the centres, O’Donoghue possibly suffers a little from his versatility. 8 may not be his most natural position, but he is a more than able deputy for CJ Stander plus indeed his starting counterparts this Saturday as he has proven since the beginning of his career with the men in red.

Teams

Munster: Simon Zebo; Darren Sweetnam, Francis Saili, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls; Tyler Bleyendaal, Duncan Williams; Dave Kiloyne, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Donnacha Ryan, Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony (Capt), Tommy O’Donnell, Jack O’Donoghue.

Replacements: Rhys Marshall, James Cronin, Stephen Archer, Dave O’Callaghan, Jean Deysel, Angus Lloyd, Ian Keatley, Andrew Conway.

Ulster: Jacob Stockdale, Andrew Trimble (Capt), Luke Marshall, Stuart Olding, Charles Piutau, Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; Andrew Warwick, Rory Best, Wiehahn Herbst, Kieran Treadwell, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Sean Reidy;

Replacements: Rob Herring, Calum Black, Rodney Ah You, Robbie Diack, Clive Ross, Paul Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Craig Gilroy

Verdict

A home win will guarantee a playoff spot for the men in red & will also keep an unprecedented double dream alive. Ulster are in dire need of a win to keep their pretty slim playoff hopes alive. With the northern province’s previous interprovincial form being patchy at best, the men in red will be pretty optimistic of victory number 17 of the PRO12 campaign.

Munster by 10

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