Ulster’s gritty performance at Fortress Thomond: Match Review
This was a game Ulster could and perhaps should have won. Saying that, Ulster will be quietly pleased with their gritty performance.
Too many handling errors, turnovers and lineout issues, but Ulster have clearly made a huge amount of progress in the last season, having leaked 64 points against Munster 12 months ago.
“In Thomond Park it’s intense and, for large parts of that game, physically we were excellent,” McFarland said of his side’s performance.
“If we’d held onto the ball I think we would have caused them problems.”
“I was proud of our physicality, proud of our set-piece. I thought that went well. Against a really excellent scrum and maul, I thought we did well.”
Both sides will be a lot happier with how they played without the ball. It was a hugely physical encounter with plenty of big collisions but both sides struggled to retain the ball in contact and coughed the ball up frequently.
However, Ulster’s physicality and fight was encouraging. It was great to see Jack McGrath’s passion in the early stages (he got a bit carried away celebrating a Munster knock-on and the referee had to ask him to calm down). After years of being perceived as ‘too nice’ Ulster need more wind-up merchants.
In the early stages Jacob Stockdale’s sloppy kick was charged down, giving Munster a five-metre scrum, following which, CJ Stander powered over under the posts. This lost Ulster their momentum after a bright start.
A try from Rory Scannell – who had a great game – gave Munster the lead but Ulster hit back through Rob Herring, who finished a classic hooker’s try, surging off the back of a maul.
Cooney put Ulster into the lead by one point with a long-range penalty with 20 mins to go and it looked like it might have been enough to secure Ulster a rare win in Limerick.
However, on 65 minutes Conway scythed through Ulster’s defence for a sublime score late in the game to decide the closely fought inter-pro encounter.
In a late scare for Munster, Stu McCloskey managed to intercept Bleyendaal’s loose pass but was chopped down by man of the match, Rory Scannell, as Ulster looked set to break away and snatch the game at the death.
For both sides, this inter-pro showed flaws and promise in fairly equal measure. Ulster will feel they could have done more against an underwhelming Munster side to exorcise the demons of last season’s annihilation and sneak away with a win.
Next up for Ulster is a trip to Bath in the opening round of this season’s Champions Cup. This will be a tough assignment with the likes of England international Sam Underhill coming back into Bath’s team. Ulster will potentially have a few of their own reinforcements coming back into the team – Iain Henderson, for example.
“We go from one European fortress to another. Bath for a long time have prided themselves on set-piece and anyone playing in the Premiership has to be good at set-piece. We’ll have to step it up a gear going into Europe.”
- Ulster’s front row, in particular Marty Moore, did well for large parts of the game. Despite not looking like the finest of athletes in his skin-tight Ulster shirt, Moore did plenty around the pitch and his front row colleagues also got stuck in.
- Munster targeted the out-half channel and Ulster were then exploited on a couple of occasions. Ulster’s disjointed defence when they over-folded around rucks in the middle of the pitch gave rise to gaps at the fringes. This has happened on a number of occasions to Ulster, both this week and last week. Ulster commit too many defenders as they wrap around central rucks, the opposition are then able to play an inside pass and exploit the space around the side of the rucks. This is what happened for Conway’s try and Ulster will surely seek to rectify this recurring problem.
- Ulster love two men tackles. This can be good at slowing the ball down but there is a tendency to over-commit at the breakdown and they need to recognise this and fan out. On a couple of occasions Ulster’s defensive line was needlessly left short.
- The line-out struggled at times. Two really easy steals by O’Mahoney was embarrassing to watch. As usual, unclear whether the call, lifting or the throw was at fault. It looked far too easy for Munster though and Ulster will be having a good look at what happened this week.
Matt Faddes: 4. We’ve seen glimpses of what he can do. Undoubtedly a talented player but was not at the races here.
Rob Lyttle: 6. Solid enough game from Lyttle who was generally quite well positioned and did his share of defensive work. Didn’t get much of a chance in attack.
Luke Marshall: 6. Marshall has bulked up this season and looks like Ulster’s answer to Basteraud. Some big collisions but was somewhat limited by the players inside him.
Stuart McCloskey: 4. Unfortunately did not do anything to prove his doubters wrong. A number of poor handling errors and a fairly quiet game in attack (except for one near-intercept at the end of the game).
Jacob Stockdale: 3. Looked massively out of form. Perhaps stating the obvious, but he was a shadow of himself and his sloppy kick was a turning point early on. Offered little going forward.
Angus Curtis: 5. Does not look like Ulster’s answer at 10 on this showing. It was a huge ask for him to make a rare start in such a big game at Thomond Park but it was not a game for out-halfs perhaps due to conditions and the scrappy nature of the game. He will improve but Burns won’t be worried about losing his place yet.
John Cooney: 7. A typically solid performance and assured place-kicking. Plenty of box-kicks which was obviously part of the game plan but at times would have been good to see the ball go to Curtis to see what he could do.
Jack McGrath: 6. Huge signing for Ulster and, in his prime, one of the best loose-heads around. Showed real passion and went toe-to-toe with a strong Munster scrum.
Rob Herring: 6. A couple of dodgy line-outs aside, did well to surge from the back of a maul to score an important try and was busy in the loose.
Marty Moore: 6. Solid performance from Moore. Great to see him back anchoring the scrum and is surprisingly mobile around the pitch. He will continue to improve as he gets match fitness back and form part of a formidable Ulster front row.
Alan O’Connor: 6. As usual, a lot of work at the coal-face, generally arriving first or second at rucks. Takes McFarland’s directive to fight for every inch very seriously.
Sam Carter: 7. Carter will be an important player for Ulster this season and his sheer physicality was on show in this gritty battle. A few decent carries.
Sean Reidy: 5. Did what was required. Got around the pitch making his tackles but didn’t play to his full potential. At his best, Reidy can be a real danger at the breakdown but was relatively quiet compared to his usual disruptive self.
Jordi Murphy: 5. Expected more from Murphy – a man with a point to prove, having been cruelly overlooked for the final world cup squad. Very few carries and will hope to make a bigger impression as the season goes on to put his hand up for Ireland selection.
Nick Timoney: 4. Really quiet game from Timoney. Better in dry conditions when he can find some space and show-off his electric pace. Looked a bit lightweight against a big Munster pack and at times Timoney and his colleagues struggled with the physicality when Munster turned the heat on.
Tom O’Toole: Did well, good impact sub and scrummaging has improved massively.
Adam McBurney: Really good cameo from McBurney. Loves a battle and got stuck in. Was his usual abrasive self.
Eric O’Sullivan: Great man to have on the bench. Finally, some depth in the front row. Does not weaken the team at the set-piece and provides a bit of dynamism.
Kieran Treadwell: Did his bit, would be good to see him carry the ball more often but didn’t have very long to make an impact.
Matthew Rea: Again, not a huge amount of time to make an impact but would be good to see Matty Rea exert himself on games a bit more, even as an impact sub.
Robert Balcoucoune: Not long enough (NLE)
David Shanahan: NLE