2016-17 PRO14

PRO12: Ulster 14 Munster 15

Ulster (14) 14
TRY: Charles Piutau, Rob Lyttle. CON: Paddy Jackson (2).
Munster (5) 15
TRY: Rory Scannell, Jaco Taute. CON: Rory Scannell. DG: Rory Scannell.

Ulster were once again done over by our southern cousins as a late drop kick by Rory Scannell secured a one point win for Munster at Ravenhill last night. 

The sad fact is that it didn’t require a great Munster performance to secure the win, a sustained workmanlike effort being all  that was required for the visitors to battle back from a fourteen point deficit. 

That old expression, “nice guys finish last” holds true as Ulster should have had this game wrapped up by half time but they failed to find that extra bit of dogged determination to kill the game off – something that the other three provinces seem to be able to conjure up at will. 

Ulster led 14 – 0, thanks to tries from Charles Piutau and Rob Lyttle, as the game approached the break. If they had scored another or even held their own line until the turn round I suspect they would have won this game with something to spare. Unfortunately it was Ulster’s lack of composure and Munsters ability to ramp up their game that made the difference, Rory Scannell crossing out wide a minute into extra time to take the score to 14 – 5 as the teams changed ends. 

The importance of that score was immense as up to then Ulster had coped with everything Munster had thrown at them and looked much sharper on the break but, with that score, you could practically see the confidence draining from Ulster and boosting Munster as the teams trotted off. 

I don’t know what was said to Ulster at half time but when they came out they looked like a team playing to avoid defeat rather than one trying to win the game. As they trotted up to their first defensive line out they looked more like a team getting ready to run through a few training ground moves rather than play a competitive game, looking far too relaxed rather than like a team hungry for a win. Their eyes were dead! 

Munster sniffed the change and upped the pressure and that was all it took. Despite some well drilled defensive patterns from Ulster, they crumbled when they tried to do anything outside of the training ordinary, their timing and composure evaporated completely as several of our big names looked hapless as they snatched at chances and spilled the ball oh too easily.

Munster did what Munster do and kept plugging away and once Jaco Taute rolled over the line for a converted try, at the start of the final quarter, there was only ever going to be one winner. 

Sure enough, with five minutes to go, Scannell knocked over the drop goal to put Munster a point in front, taking the lead for the first time in the game. Ulster huffed and puffed and had a chance to steal the game back but Jackson’s drop kick drifted just wide, the visitors holding on to take a deserved win. 

For some reason a couple of quotes from Hamlet sprang to the forefront of my mind as I sat down to write this report. The first is not a direct quote, more an allusion, but “Something is definitely rotten in the state of Ulster”, as, once again, they managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory!

The players are just not at themselves and, while the management and coaches have blamed the players over the last few weeks, I think the management team have to take a look at themselves. Even when down to third choice in some positions we still have one of the best back lines in the PRO12 but it is not reflected in our scoring or our play, they look like a team that can’t think on their feet and are scared to take a chance. Overcoached, overtrained and underperforming is my verdict. Thank god the Women’s Internationals are starting soon so I can watch some actual rugby being played! 

It’s a defeat that will probably see Ulster slump from first to fifth, by the time this weekend’s fixtures are complete, and, to use up my second Hamlet quote, “I am sick at heart!” 

Ulster: Charles Piutau, Tommy Bowe, Luke Marshall, Darren Cave, Craig Gilroy, Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar, Callum Black, Rob Herring, Wiehahn Herbst, Dan Tuohy, Franco vd Merwe, Robbie Diack, Sean Reidy, Roger Wilson: Replacements: John Andrew, Kyle McCall, Andrew Warwick, Clive Ross, Conor Joyce, Paul Marshall, Brett Heron, Rob Lyttle. 

Pictures below by Ian Humes.

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