Munster blocking out external criticism after much-needed Ulster win

Province’s style of play came in for heavy criticism after Connacht loss last weekend

 

Munster 18 Ulster 13

Departing Munster head coach Johann van Graan said they have not allowed criticism of their tactics or performances creep inside the camp and he praised the manner in which his side dealt with the challenges of Saturday night’s derby clash against Ulster at Thomond Park.

A red card for Simon Zebo, the first in his 148-match Munster career, after just 15 minutes added to the pre-match loss of captain Peter O’Mahony and heaped the pressure on Van Graan and his men after dismal showings against Connacht and Castres. But with Tadhg Beirne, a late replacement for O’Mahony, leading from the front, they came with a late surge to extend their winning run at Thomond to six matches.

Academy player Alex Kendellen, who last week signed a two-year senior contract, came onto the bench when Beirne was drafted in and turned out to be the match-winner when he pounced four minutes from time.

Beirne, celebrating his 30th birthday, showed the leadership Munster badly needed and Van Graan said afterwards that they had paid no heed to outside criticism all week.

“It is all about the people on the inside. It is professional sport. There will always be noise but luckily we have a very good leadership group and a very good coaching team,” he said.

“I can understand when people get carried away or when people make statements and that is part and parcel of professional rugby. All we can do is focus on our process and inside the HPC [high-performance centre] we are all pretty calm and pretty composed. It was a normal week for us.

“The red card, high-speed incidents, a kick chase and unfortunately Zeebs made that tackle and we just stuck in. I thought tactically with 14 men we were very good. Some scrums were with seven, some with eight, we did a few different things with our lineout, we had to adapt. Pleasing about the win, pleasing that we kept our belief.”

Now they will turn their attention to the Champions Cup and head to Castres for Friday’s clash and Van Graan said that they would have to wait and see if O’Mahony and World Cup winner Damian de Allende recover in time for that trip

“We have got to make sure we recover first. We have literally got Monday and Tuesday and then we are off to France. We have a few guys who will hopefully come back in the next few days. This was a pretty physical encounter so we will take stock on Monday morning.

“We won’t get carried away. The last time we played Castres away we lost 13-12. The way they came back against other teams in the last two weeks means it is clear they will be a handful over there. We will look at the game in isolation, prepare well, and hopefully deliver a good performance.”

Meanwhile, Joey Carbery, another to have signed a two-year contract extension last week, won’t be available for some time.

“He is still a number of weeks away but we are very glad he is staying in Munster Rugby, he is such a big part of the squad. It is great that he is remaining here because he is happy here and I felt in that Wasps game he got back to his best after the third Irish Test against Argentina. It is unfortunate he got injured in a freak injury against Wasps. It is an elbow injury; he can do a bit of stuff but it will still be a number of weeks,” added Van Graan.

Ulster, looking for their first win in Limerick since 2014, got on top early on and Dan McFarland’s men were rewarded for their ambition when they went to the corner with a penalty and after getting the drive on, hooker Rob Herring scored. John Cooney landed the conversion from the left to lead 7-0 after eight minutes.

Zebo was sent off after 15 minutes for a shoulder to the head of Michael Lowry when both he and Jack Crowley tackled the Ulster fullback after chasing a high kick. Initially, referee Mike Adamson indicated there was mitigation that Crowley was also involved in the tackle, but television match official Brian MacNeice urged him to review it and the Scottish referee then brandished a red card.

Munster, with Beirne leading the way, fought back and got a foothold in the game but a 19-phase barrage inside the 22 failed to yield a try and when another sustained surge after a tapped penalty was also repelled, they opted for three points from Jack Crowley seven minutes from the break.

Crowley cut the gap to the minimum with a penalty from 25 metres but Ulster led 10-6 at half-time when Nathan Doak, on for the injured Cooney, converted a penalty after Rory Scannell, playing his 150th game for Munster, was pinged for not rolling away.

Ulster were on top in the third quarter and extended their lead when Doak landed a penalty from 45 metres after 56 minutes, but they lost replacement lock Kieran Treadwell to a yellow card for a dump tackle on Shane Daly.

Munster made them pay, they went to the left corner and recycled left to right for fullback Mike Haley to score, but Crowley hit the near upright with the touchline conversion and they trailed 13-11 going into the final quarter.

Mike Haley scores out wide despite the best efforts of Lowry. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Mike Haley scores out wide despite the best efforts of Lowry. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Munster never gave up and a couple of recycles after Jack O’Donoghue made the hard yards Kendellen pounced for the winning score four minutes from time, leaving Ulster coach Dan McFarland ruing a missed opportunity.

“It’s very tough to take,” he said. “The conditions even it out a bit in the fact that it was difficult to move the ball with any width, so the fact that they have a winger missing makes it difficult.

“I thought the territory stuff in the second half we did pretty well, but then lost our way a bit on two or three occasions and it resulted in them getting the ball in our half.

“Rugby is littered with games like this, backs to the wall with 14 men turning it around and end up winning because they’re galvanised with the loss, and unfortunately, we’re on the end of it.

“It’s so difficult to come down here and win. That was our opportunity and we let it slip.

“It was the try coming off the back of the penalty offence. Winning the middle third was huge for us, and one of the things you can’t do is give penalties away in the middle third, because that gives access.

“When you lose a forward in conditions like that and offer them the opportunity to do what they want to do and what they’re good at, you’re going to end up suffering, aren’t you?”

Munster: M Haley; S French, C Farrell, R Scannell, S Zebo; J Crowley, C Casey; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, S Archer; T Ahern, F Wycherley; P O’Mahony, J Hodnett, G Coombes.

Replacements: S Daly for French, J Wycherley for Kilcoyne, D Barron for N Scannell, J Ryan for Archer (all 55 mins), B Healy for Crowley, A Kendellen for Hodnett (both 62 mins), J O’Donoghue for Ahern (65 mins), N Cronin for Casey (72 mins).

Ulster: M Lowry; C Gilroy, B Moxham, J Hume, E McIlroy; B Burns, J Cooney; J McGrath, R Herring, T O’Toole; A O’Connor, S Carter; G Jones, N Timoney, D Vermeulen.

Replacements: N Doak for Cooney (24 mins), A Warwick for McGrath, K Treadwell for Carter (both 45 mins), A Curtis for Hume, M Rea for Jones (both 63 mins), R Lyttle for Gilroy, J Andrew for Herring, R Kane for O’Toole (all 77 mins).

Referee: M Adamson (Scotland).

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