So an over indulgent Christmas has given way to an excessive new year’s celebration which has lead us into an attempt of dry January. Some have powered on through the back to work fear and some of us have crumbled at the mere thought of being back in the office.
The only thing keeping us together spiritually is the end of year inter provincial series. Which finished on the opening weekend of 2019.
Before we get into it, may I wish you and yours a happy, healthy and strong 2019.
Now on to the important stuff.
Starting in a cold RDS Leinster welcomed Ulster and their travelling support. Leinster coming off a very off colour trip to Thomond park which has 1 province erupting with glee and another province moving on quickly. In short, it showed that Munster and their support are not over the local rivalry and Leinster are the professional support moving on to the next match after seeing the game for what it was.
Tangent aside let’s get to ulster.
Going in it looked like an opportunity for strong teams to clash again while trying to get back on the winning track. In reality the top liners where rested ahead of the big European games to come. A full house witness a damp squib of a game. Let’s have a paragraph of stats and analysis and then get into the issues coming out of the game.
40-7 to Leinster, all but 1 try scored in the first half. Leinster had 53% possession for 63% territory, Leinster made 153 of 173 tackles for a penalty concession of 6 (a marked improvement on last week). Ulster made 173 of 205 tackles for 11 penalties. It was not a good day at the office for Ulster, who outside of a decent 7 minutes in the first half were out played, outfought, out basic’s and all out gunned by the Leinster third string. This game did damage to ulster. We know Leinster have the academy and blah blah blah, the things you always hear. Ulster have a very strong academy too; their top academy players are about 18 months away from being stalwarts so games like this will happen in the meantime. No one going in thought Ulster would win, but the least their support expected / deserved was to do the basics right. Ulster could do that. Their captain on the day (who didn’t finish the game) had an opportunity to point his team in the right direction when Leinster game away 3 penalties in 4 minutes in the first half, instead of navigating that purple patch to the try line he gave away a penalty and undid all of the team’s work. A bad message sent to the team. Ulster did have scrap in them whenever they were pushed in terms of off the play, but when the game was on they were never at the races. There are leaders in the squad who should have been sprinkled into that team for the game, but Dan McFarland chose to rest them this week. A gamble which will hopefully pay off against Racing next week.
I was part of a second screen experience for Three blokes, a ball and BOD for the game and we had 2 lads direct from Ulster talking through the game, cheers Richard and Stuart, the anger and heartbreak from the lads was palpable and worrying. (show can be found here – https://www.facebook.com/threeblokesaballandbod/videos/2242887885984313/) . The lack of basic game management along with basic skills was something that angered them. So should McFarland bring in the top academy players and sprinkle them into the starting squad for the remainder of the year in the hope that they will bed in ahead of the international players exit this year? Or should he grin and bear it for this season? It was very bad and neither team leave the game with many things to write home about. Leinster where professional, but not stellar. A second half marred by near boredom and losing the ball in contact lead to a score line that flattered no one. Onwards to next week.
In the game of the weekend (and series) Connacht welcomed Munster. Both teams fielded near full strength teams with Chris Farrell returning in red and Tom Farrell looking to continue to good form in green. Both performed well in the game that finished 31-24 to Munster. This game was very close in terms of stats, let’s have a look.
Connacht ran 3 metres less than Munster at 439, they made 71% of 171 tackles, Munster made 71% of 141 tackles, Connacht surrendered 9 penalties to Munster’s 7, lost 2 lineouts and won 1 scrum against the head. Connacht had more clean breaks at 10 and offloaded 1 more time at 7. Both teams conceded 10 turnovers. This game was THE game of the series and maybe the league so far.
Conway had 12 runs for 111 metres, Tom Farrell had 14 runs for 101 metres. Tom Farrell really put himself in contention for sneaking into Joe Schmidt’s dreams, another top performance against a top team. Munster backed up their win against Leinster with a strong performance against a Connacht team looking for a scalp. Connacht have leap frogged (an admittedly in transition) Ulster now, hopefully they will be given the funding to add a couple of signings over the summer to allow them to make the full 80 at full intensity.
A great weekend of rugby again from the Irish provinces ahead of the next round in Europe