Tuesday, June 25, 2024
HomePoliticsURC Quarterfinals: Munster and Leinster progress.

URC Quarterfinals: Munster and Leinster progress.


Ireland have three representatives in the Quarter finals (seeded 1,3, and 6), South Africa two (2 and 5), and Scotland (4), Italy (7) and Wales (8) one apiece. That counts as a good season for Irish rugby even if it is a step down from last year, when all four provinces qualified for the last 8. I’m sure the URC organisers are pleased that at least this season Italy and Wales have one representative in the last 8, having had none last year. Munster, the defending champions, qualified first and have home advantage all the way to the final, if they can get that far.

 

Munster 23 Ospreys 7

Munster did what they had to do to win this match without ever scaling the heights of what we know they are capable off. Their pack never succeeded in dominating the set piece, but Crowley marshalled his troops well, and they had the better back-line and bench. Nash and Daly were effective on the wings, Zebo took his try well, and Frisch continued to demonstrate he will be a loss for next season.

But Osprey’s took their try well, were combative in the physical exchanges, and generally tried to make a contest of it. Munster paid them the respect they deserved by taking their points when they had the chance and adopting a pragmatic approach throughout. Knock-out rugby is about winning games rather than fancy moves and try bonus points.

That the crowd was at only half capacity may have indicated a degree of complacency amongst their supporters, with many keeping their hands in their pockets for the bigger challenges ahead in the semi-final and final. They were not wrong in their assessment: Osprey’s, for all their endeavour, were never really at the races. This was a match some way short of test match intensity.

 

Leinster 43 Ulster 20

Like Thomond Park on Friday, Lansdowne Road doesn’t look much more than half full which is a damning indictment of either to the URC pricing strategy, or the level of interest in Ireland in games where one team is a strong favourite.  There were very few Ulster fans in evidence, but Leinster fans hardly came out en masse for the occasion either.

Both sides started at full pace but making a lot of mistakes. Leinster overthrow a five metre line-out and then Ulster go on the attack and Timoney almost gets in. Ulster are already without locks Henderson, Treadwell and O’Conner and now lose Izuchukwu to a HIA. Ulster retain territorial advantage but Leinster breakaway and Osborne almost fluffs his lines by failing to pass to Gibson Park, but rides the tackle and sets up Henshaw for the try. 7-0

Ulster’s main attacking gambit seems to be a Cooney box kick or a Burns grubber and it has given them some territorial joy. But O’Brien, Lowe, Osborne and Gibson Park are starting to deal with them well. Leinster start to up the pace and Ross Byrne kicks a penalty for a high tackle, and then an inside break leads to a try for Lowe. Leinster are dominating the scoreboard despite not having had all that much play in Ulster’s half.  17-0 h/t

Ulster come on the attack again and Leinster concede three penalties in a row and are lucky bto escape a yellow card for cynical play when Doris changed his bind at a maul. Ulster go to the corner again but Leinster steal the line-out 17-0 h/t.

Leinster have scored from almost every opportunity while Ulster have failed to convert any of theirs. In no way does 17-0 reflect the balance of play, but as Leinster have found out to their cost in the European Cup, at this level you have to take your chances. Considering their injury woes at lock, Ulster have acquitted themselves with honour, but a lot more will be required for them to haul themselves back into the match.

Cooney gets some joy from a contestable kick and nails the penalty 17-3. Another excellent contestable kick is barely nudged forward by Stockdale. Lowe then prevents a cross-kick going into touch with a delicate foot control pass the defender and nudges it up the line for a classy try. How many times have we seen players over-kick the ball in those situations? Byrne hits the post with the conversion. 22-3.

Leinster leave the short-side undefended, and McCann gets over unopposed. Great vision from Cooney to spot the opportunity. Cooney has been my man of the match so far, but he just misses the touchline conversion. 22-8

Leinster have been poor on the kick chase and under the high ball and have not been able to capitalise on their scrum dominance due to their being very few scrums and Ulster getting their ball out quickly. Burns, Addison and Jones have all had good games – all are set to leave Ulster and will be some loss.

Larmour eventually gets in on the right after Leinster stretch the defence left and right but Stewart Moore gets a good bounce and scores immediately afterwards – despite having been marginally ahead of the kicker. But Leinster come back again immediately, and Van Der Flier outflanks the defence. 36-15

The Leinster bench comes on and their scrum destroys Ulster. A Leinster overthrow is picked up by Prendergast and Molony gets in despite the suspicion of a crawl. Prendergast does his Zebo impression and Leinster are starting to motor. McCarthy gets a deserved MOTM for a performance in both the tight and the loose. He has some engine and it was his covering tackles out wide that stopped a number of Ulster attacks.

Ulster can be proud of their performance and their fight to the end, with Mike Lowry getting in in the corner to make it 43-20. Leinster now face a daunting trip to the high Veldt to take on the Bulls in Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria in a rehearsal for the first Ireland South Africa test on 6th.  July.  Many of the Leinster side who will be hoping to make that trip have not played at altitude in that stadium before and so it could be useful experience for them ahead of the test match.

Ulster appear to have made a lot of progress under Richie Murphy and have some very promising young players coming through – notably McCann, Izuchukwu, and Sheridan, with some of their more experienced hands coming back into form. Selection for the Irish squad for the test series in South Africa should be interesting, with several Ulster players coming back into the conversation.


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