More focused Ulster to bounce back after dropping unbeaten run
Without doubt the performance of the fourth round was in the secondrow where USA Eagle Samu Manoa (one cap; turned down RWC 2011 to go to Saints!) was simply sensational. In every facet of the game he excelled and not just as a secondrow, but as a rugby player.
Can our ’rows learn from him and his style? Yes they can but as he is of Tongan descent and has an explosive power we Irish tend not to have.
There were parts of his game that all our boys can mimic: very combative at kick-off, where Myler landed the ball on a specific target for Manoa to challenge every time. With the slightly shorter Calum Clarke partnering him much pressure remained on his lineout until English international Courtney Lawes arrived.
Ulster paring Iain Henderson and Dan Tuohy were very quiet, carrying for a total of six metres, with Manoa making 33. But it wasn’t the total ground covered that impressed. His reading of the game, manifested in the regularity of his arrival on to the ball when his team needed go forward and redirection was impressive, as was his offload to a better placed running attacker. Suffice to say I would love to know what the Saints are doing in training to get such a return from their 27- year-old one-cap secondrow.
Ulster required a killer instinct in the confrontations, especially at the breakdown, which never really arrived and with Lawes’ and Manoa’s power and offloading there were far fewer breakdowns than the previous week.
In the absence of an expected home physicality Ulster required pace, which didn’t really arrive until scrumhalf Paul Marshall stepped in for the injured Paddy Jackson (Ruan Pienaar moving to outhalf). The ultimate irony occurred as the only man who could keep up with Marshall was Tommy Bowe, who did untold damage to his knee in the effort.
With Glasgow Warriors at home in round five I think Ulster, having dropped the unbeaten run, will bounce back much more focused for the away fight at Castres Olympic to ensure a home quarter-final. Then the colour, charisma and celebration can really fly.
The draw for Munster, like Ulster, is most favourable, with Rob Penney’s side travelling next week to Edinburgh before hosting Racing Metro 92; this should bring a tad more joy than many fancy.
As for my Christmas, Monica has tasked me with doing the Brussels sprouts!