That was an emotional rollercoaster of a weekend for Irish rugby. Leinster v Munster had a lot of people reaching for the bottle and then Ulster v Edinburgh was so exciting it had people reaching for the Xanax.
Starting in Dublin where Munster’s momentum hinged on a performance and a result against a Leinster side gearing up for Saracens. This was supposed to be the war like semi final that would show where each team was. It turned out to be the complete opposite that neither team performed close to their best.
It finished in a boring and dull 13-3 win to Leinster.
Lets look at the numbers.
Shockingly, Leinster ran for nearly 200 more metres at 288, had 56% territory for 53% possession, and made 89 of 101 tackles anc conceded 13 penalties to Munster’s 11. To show Munster’s worrying state, only 1 Leinster player made double figures in terms of tackles made, that was Connors at 14. Usually Leinster are called into action far more than that.
Munster have some big issues. To start, we need to make this clear. A strong Munster is important to every province, the SUAF ethos that defined that team was the envy of teams around the world and rightly so. A mixture of un-Munster short term signings have diluted that fighting ethos along with off the field pressures and even bigger, moments of magic from players have papered over the cracks in recent years. Quarter final victories won on magic and not built by a team performance have distracted from reality. In order to make a final, which is important for all, Munster must look at themselves.
I await heated reaction to the above.
Moving to the blue jersey, it wasn’t flawless by any means against Munster. The team selection showed confidence in the squad, which should continue into the final. This was a team very much jogging on the night. A lot of missed tackles, dropped balls and penalties conceded which just won’t work in the final / against Saracens. Some of this has to do with rust, an opponent who isn’t firing properly and not having the mind on the job. These will all change in the coming weeks. It was not Leinsters finest day at the office, but it is not about how you win, it is about getting the result and Leinster where never in any danger of walking away without that last weekend.
I think both teams would like to forget about that game, recharge, regroup and move on.
So we move to Edinburgh v Ulster. A game that had hearts racing regardless of what jersey you wear. Ulster coming in off some fairly lackluster performances and Edinburgh looking relatively strong post lockdown.
It started badly for Ulster with a try conceded within the first 15. The next score did not come until 6 minutes after half time, 12-0 at 46 minutes. Early second half subs spurred on Ulster. Back into the game with a try on 54 mins, then Edinburgh scored and then Ulster scored again. I am getting tired just typing this.
Before we get into the end of the match, let us check some numbers.
Ulster ran for 312 (30 less than Edinburgh) but had 56% possession for 59% territory (great stat that one), missed 28 of 162 tackles to Edinburgh missing 16 of 201, set pieces performed well with no one leaking anything, Ulster conceded only 8 penalties (another great stat) to Edinburgh 14. Edinburgh had 8 players in the high double figures for tackles made (contrast to the Lei v Mun), Ulster had 7 with Herring topping the charts with 16 made zero missed. Tackles all over the pitch that shows both teams trying to play. Great to see
So back to the finish.
Madigan on at 70 minutes, McFarland feels a kick will decide this. Ulster score a bully try at 75 minutes, I have no fingernails left. Madigan sinks the kick, tough one from the ‘wrong side’ for a right-footed kicker. Then Edinburgh give away a silly penalty on 79.99999999 minutes. Long range but good angle for Madigan to step up and put it through the middle of the posts.
This comeback is something that will galvanize Ulster. If not this year, next year. Still in the hunt for 2 trophies. The territory, penalty conceded and possession stats are massive positives. Especially compared to the numbers from the opening game of the weekend. Many positives for ulster.
The issue now is, recovery and the hope that they have not dug too deep into the well in the semi final, when Leinster await next weekend.