Keatley man of the match but James Cronin’s cameo was crucial to Munster’s victory
Tighthead Fitzpatrick has vital role for Ulster in tonight’s season-defining H Cup battle with Leicester
Leicester’s mental threat will come from the first scrum of the day where deep in their 22 against Saints they wanted much more than the ball, they wanted to get the upperhand up front by murdering Saints; watch out Ulster.
Driving him backwards
At the second scrum (the first to Saints in an attacking slot) Mulipola (the image of Martín Castrogiovanni) was able to dip slightly, post-engage, angle in and lift Saints tighthead Tom Mercey, depowering him and driving him backwards, with Dylan Hartley very high throughout.
Penalty turnovers are one aspect but it will also affect the channel ball on offer for Ulster tonight and will stunt mentally but also tactically, where Ulster will need to play creative rugby utilising lively, skilled backs off the scrum, as when Craig Gilroy scored his try in Thomond Park off the right-hand scrum. Conversely, Leicester’s comfort in set-piece gives a platform to attack with Ulster tied down.
Connacht managed to unsettle both tightheads in Galway and Leicester will want to do likewise. Their loosehead does slip outside his man with a snap dip, targeting the Ulster tighthead’s chest to power upwards and totally depower the drive, ultimately walking Ulster backwards.
With the absence of a hit the power of Ulster tighthead Declan Fitzpatrick’s bind allied to his height is crucial to limiting Mulipola. Like Munster, Leicester pack number four Louis Deacon behind their tighthead for added oomph.
Leicester are clever and eke out so much that’s not theirs. Hooker Tom Youngs stands in front of his own line for every throw, sending it straight but down his side; watch out, officials. They have nice variation in their lineouts, with quick over the ground full extension lifts.
Several times Mulipola circles around behind Kitchener to give a massive lift. Kitchener is their main target in the middle or coming forward into space. When won, Leicester love to put the ball, especially off slow ball, through one flat forward to a hard-line running extra forward out wider.
Great creative opportunities will abound for Ulster, especially as Leicester’s broken field defensive line when chasing kicks can be lazy.
Likewise off turnover ball or multiphase play, quick hands targeting weak shoulders will suck their shape.
Ulster’s breakdown king, Chris Henry’s “solid core” will provide opportunities out wide that must be taken as Leicester are vulnerable – but Fitzpatrick’s scrummaging must make it so.