The poor weather conditions were the least of Ulster’s problems last night as their unbeaten home record at Ravenhill came to an end after falling to a disappointing 16 – 6 defeat to interprovincial rivals Munster.
Due to the IRFU Player Management Scheme, both Ulster and Munster were left without a number of their first-team players. Yet despite Munster having a larger disadvantage with a long injury list and nine players away training with Ireland, (compared to Ulster’s five), a poor performance from the home side meant they succumbed to their third consecutive defeat of the season.
The opening minutes of the match saw Munster struggle with the heavy rain as they fumbled the ball and knocked it forward. Ulster took advantage of the situation to set up camp in Munster’s half, and after just six minutes into the game, centre Nevin Spence sprinted towards the oppositions’ 22 to bring his side just short of the line. Quick recycling from the pack allowed Ian Humphreys to kick to the corner where Mark McCrea was waiting in the wings, but he was unable to collect the ball and play was brought back for a penalty.
Ruan Pienaar was the designated kicker once again following Paddy Wallace’s appointment the previous match, and he slotted over his first penalty of the night. Ulster 3 – Munster 0.
The ten minute marked signalled Paul Warwick’s introduction into the game when he opted for the posts following an Ulster infringement. He easily made his first kick of the evening to level the scores. Ulster 3 – Munster 3.
Five minutes later it seemed Ulster were certain to score a try again when Willie Faloon (who was making just his second start of the season) stole the ball from Munster’s Alan Quinlan and charged towards the try-line. Munster’s defense held up and as Ulster threw the ball out wide to try again Nigel Brady was within touching distance of the line. Munster were penalised for being offside which gave Pienaar the chance to edge his team in front. His kick was on target, taking the score to Ulster 6 – Munster 3.
Both sides continued to battle the weather – and each other – for possession and territory and it was to be 33 minutes before another chance to score occurred, when Niall Ronan was penalised for being offside, Pienaar opted to make it three kicks from three. Unfortunately his kick went to the right of the posts. As half-time loomed, the score remained unchanged at: Ulster 6 – Munster 3.
As the second half got underway, it was Ulster’s turn to knock the ball forward on the 43rd minute, giving Munster the perfect chance to put pressure on the home side. As Ulster conceded another penalty Warwick fancied the opportunity to level the scores again. His second attempt at goal was just as accurate as the first, bringing the score to Ulster 6 – Munster 6.
As the pace of the game slowed down and it turned into a game full of stop-starts, Pienaar and Warwick turned to kicking down field to try and win their side any advantage possible. A couple of chances for both teams ended without extra points being added to the scoreboard.
As the clocked ticked down and just over 10 minutes remaining, Munster pushed Ulster back before Pedrie Wannenberg was penalised for coming in from the side. Warwick continued his 100 percent rate and slotted over the visitors’ third kick to take the lead for the first time of the match. Ulster 6 – Munster 9.
Eighty minutes gone and it looked like Ulster were getting away with a losing bonus point, but the final play of the match was the most dangerous when Munster’s Ivan Dineen intercepted a long pass from Pienaar. As Warwick converted the try, Ulster were denied their losing bonus point and Munster won their first match at Ravenhill since 2007.
Final score: Ulster 6 – Munster 16.
Thoughts on the game?
What can I say?
After dominating the game in the first half, Ulster fell away in the second half and slumped to their third consecutive defeat of the season. The players and coaches had worked hard during the week to ensure similar performance didn’t happen again and now one can’t help but worry that this appears to be a recurring pattern.
Failure to turn possession and pressure into points also cost Ulster the game. There were times in the first half where they had the chance to widen the points gap, but the team were unable to finish off any of their attacking phases of play.
Trying to pull some positives from the game, Ulster’s youngsters – Nevin Spence, Paddy McAllister and Luke Marshall – had good games last night and look to be ones to watch for the future.
Despite this, it was a poor second half performance from Ulster, but where do the problems – and ultimately, the blame – for such performances lie. Is it with the players, or the coaches?