Category: Archive

Ulster pummel Munster on their Limerick home turf

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

In hindsight, it was maybe something we should have seen coming. Ulster, under new management this season, have begun to quietly recover from their shocking start under Matt Williams. Although they spent the first half of the season rooted to the bottom of the Magners, they’ve stuck at it and, week by week, match by match, they’ve improved. They’re not at the level that Munster – or even Leinster – routinely achieve just yet but they’re beginning to head in the right direction at least.
Munster, by contrast, have had to paper over the occasional crack this season, three times needing to make up for slow starts by coming from behind to win games in the final five minutes. They’d coughed up a cheap – and even rarer – loss away to Connacht the previous weekend and took the field at Thomond without a few of their front line players, most notably Paul O’Connell, David Wallace, Marcus Horan, Tom_s O’Leary and Keith Earls (all rested), Alan Quinlan (on the bench) and Denis Leamy (injured).
“We haven’t become a bad side overnight,” said Munster coach Tony McGahan afterwards. “We had a kick in the backside last week and another one this week. We are working as hard as we can. The players are working hard. They are a very proud bunch. Confidence is one of those things – you don’t know where it goes, you don’t know where it comes from. All we need to do is galvanize together and work hard and you’ll get there.”
No point in panicking, obviously, but the signs have been there this season for Munster. Thomond Park is certainly nothing like the fortress it once was and although the new stadium is lovely and shiny and very definitely not crumbling around peoples’ ears like the old one was, something of the sense of intimidation felt by visiting teams has definitely leaked away. In a professional game, of course, this should mean nothing to the team itself but it’s a nasty kind of coincidence that this change has crossed paths with a Munster side feeling around in the dark for its best form all of a sudden.
They were beaten here by an Ulster side that was led manfully and expertly by Ian Humphreys, younger brother of former Ulster and Ireland outhalf David. His display was foot perfect on the night. The northerners were 22-6 up at the break thanks to a try each from centres Paddy Wallace and Darren Cave and substitute Mark McCrea. That Humphreys, Wallace and Cave were to the fore – and flanker Stephen Ferris as well – was especially apt heading into the New Year, as that quartet have shone regularly over the past couple of months and should probably all find themselves named in Ireland’s Six Nations squad in the coming weeks. Not bad for a province that was on its uppers when Williams took over.
“Ian Humphreys has really come on, especially in defence,” Williams said. “We wouldn’t let him in the team until he got his tackling right. Every challenge we have put there, he has risen to it. People are now talking about him as a player and not because he’s David’s brother. He is growing in maturity, stature and self-belief. There is a lot of pressure on him as David’s brother but I feel he has established himself in his own right. He is an exciting player with great vision. He brings other players around him well. He is quick and has a fine running game.
“Munster are a great team and a great organization, but it was just our day. And because Munster is such a great team, it makes our win that good. What we really wanted to do today was come into his great rugby city, and play with pride. I thought we did play with pride and with passion and we played with the ball-in-hand too, which I was really pleased with. But to just do it in one game doesn’t make us a champion team. Munster do it year after year after year – that’s what makes them a champion side. We’ve done it for a couple of weeks. We’re nowhere near in that part of the world yet.”
Williams is right of course but he shouldn’t deny himself the joy of looking back at the DVD of the game either. Tighthead prop Tom Court made the scoreline a barely believable 29-6 shortly after half-time and the rest of the match was mostly about Munster seeing if they could take the ugly look off the scoreboard. But all they could manage was a Doug Howlett try with 15 minutes to go, and even that was matched by Andrew Trimble five minutes later, the Ulster winger latching on to a perfectly judged kick from Humphreys to rub salt in the Munster wounds.
“During a course of a season, sides go through different ebbs and flows, don’t they?” McGahan mused. “When things are running your way, you seem to get all the bounces of the ball and calls, but when you’re not playing that well you don’t seem to get them. You need to work hard to put yourself in those positions and I thought they (Ulster) did that this evening. The great thing about sport and the great thing about rugby is this week gives us an opportunity to go forward and get a result (against Ospreys). We haven’t become a bad side overnight. This week gives us an opportunity to get back on track, work hard and get through it.”
The final piece of bad news for Munster came the following day when Rua Tipoki, the Kiwi centre who came off with a hamstring injury at the end of the first half, will miss the next month of action. What solace there was to be found came with the news that Ronan O’Gara’s hamstring problem – which also caused him to be withdrawn in that first half – isn’t as serious and he’ll be fit for the Heineken Cup match against Sale next week.

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