By Charlie Mulqueen
Munster would be well advised to bear in mind the immediate aftermath of their two previous runaway wins on home territory when celebrating Saturday night’s record Guinness PRO14 demolition of an understrength and hapless Ulster combination.
After running up 38 unanswered points against the Cheetahs on the opening day of the season at Thomond Park, they were overrun by Glasgow in the first half a week later at Scotstoun en route to a 25-10 defeat.
Then they walloped a second string Ospreys 49-13 at Musgrave Park before conceding 37 points to the Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park eight days later. So there is every reason to mute the jubilation given that it is Leinster of all teams who are next in line – and at the Aviva - on Saturday.
Comments by coach Johann van Graan that “you can only play what’s in front of you, tonight was all about us and what we wanted to do” are all understandable but those placing too much significance in the performance that inflicted a 64-7 humiliation on Ulster (their previous biggest defeat was by 56-3 against Wasps in 1995) should rein in the optimism.
To be fair, while some of Munster’s nine tries were ridiculously soft, others were of great quality with the 6th by Joey Carbery the pick of a handsome crop. It came in a counterattack in the 62nd minute that the out-half started deep in his own 22 and was carried on by Dan Goggin and Alex Wootton before Carbery took the latter’s high pass spectacularly and at scorching pace before racing clear to touch down for a brilliant try.
The other tries came from Tommy O’Donnell and Goggin (2 apiece); Peter O’Mahony, Sammy Arnold, Keith Earls and Alex Wootton.
Carbery converted five and also kicked a penalty while substitute Ian Keatley landed three conversions. Ulster’s only reply was a try by Darren Cave added to by Billy Burns to make it 29-7 but it was about the only bright note for an Ulster side including only half of what can be regarded as their first choice starting line-up. It also left Johann van Graan still unsure as to where his team stands entering a crucial part of the season.
“I’ll tell you after the next few weeks”, he said with a slightly rueful smile as he looks ahead to three seriously daunting games, the PRO14 visit to Leinster followed by European Cup matches against Exeter and Gloucester that may go a long way towards defining Munster’s season.
“It’s difficult to say. The season is so long that if you look ahead to May from now, you almost can’t see it. The only one now is Leinster, the best team in Europe, possibly the best in the world. What more can you say about them. Munster haven’t won in the Aviva for quite a while. They’re a side we respect and it’s a great challenge. They are an impressive side ... they are almost a full Test side.
Saturday’s game heralded the first appearance in the Munster jersey of the five times capped All Black scrum-half Alby Mathewson and van Graan expressed himself “very happy” with the manner in which the new man linked with the outstanding Carbery.
“You’ve got to invest in people before you look at the rugby”, he said. “I had a chat with Alby yesterday and you could see the value of the man. Joey and I spoke about him on Monday and Tuesday and Joey said, listen, now that Alby’s in, we’ve got to adjust one or two of our plans and it’s brilliant for a coach to see guys take ownership and come up with solutions”.
No player on either side at the Aviva on Saturday evening next will be under greater pressure than Carbery as he returns to his old stomping ground and goes up against his recent past team mates and friends.
“I don’t think that’s in his thought process”, claimed van Graan. “He’s part of Munster now. There is no animosity, he respects them, they respect him. We know he’s walking into a cauldron and if he gets selected, he’s ready to face that. The easy thing is to spot a problem, the difficult thing is to come up with a solution. In terms of 9 (Mathewson), 10 (Carbery), 15 (Andrew Conway), 2 (Niall Scannell), 5 (Billy Holland), 8 (CJ Stander), I thought we were pretty good tonight. We’re a very confident group. We’ve got big dreams.”
MUNSTER: A Conway; K Earls, D Goggin, R Scannell, A Wootton; J Carbery, A Mathewson; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, S Archer, T Beirne, B Holland, P O’Mahony capt, T O’Donnell, CJ Stander.
Replacements: J Cronin, D Williams for Kilcoyne, Mathewson 50 mins; J Kleyn for Beirne 58; A Botha, K O’Byrne for O’Donnell, N Scannell 60; S Arnold for R Scannell 63; C Parker for Archer 62; I Keatley for Carbery 65.
ULSTER: P Nelson; C Gilroy, D Cave, A Curtis, A Kernohan; B Burns, J Cooney; A Warwick, A McBurney, R Kane, A O’Connor capt, I Henderson, M Rea, N Timoney, J Deysel.
Replacements: K Treadwell for Henderson, HIA, 19;D Shanahan for Cooney, injured, 31; M Lowry, T O’Toole for Nelson, McBurney half time; E O’Sullivan for Warwick 63; J Hume for Burns 64; C Ross for Curtis 74; J Andrew for McBurney 66.
Referee: Dan Jones (Wales).
It mattered: Understrength Ulster’s bitterly disappointing contribution to a hopelessly one-sided encounter undermined the integrity of interprovincial rugby and the proud tradition of the northern province for well over a century. Munster have run up a total of 151 points in three home games so far.
Can’t ignore The weak Ulster team that turned up in Thomond Park on Saturday was bravely defended by their new head coach Dan McFarland. But he also hinted that the fallout will continue when the squad reassemble in the Kingspan this morning.
Good day Several Munster players who have been short of match practice for various reasons caught the eye. Competition in the centre is very keen and Dan Goggin must have moved up the rankings with two well taken tries. Tommy O’Donnell, also with a couple to his name, proved he will challenge for the number 7 jersey while Alby Mathewson at scrum-half showed why he was once deemed good enough to play for the All Blacks.
Sideline smarts Mike Haley could be an invaluable member of the Munster team in massive upcoming games. So it was wise to pull him out of the game just before the kick-off because of a minor hamstring strain. However, when Peter O’Mahony needed treatment shortly after half time with the league points already banked, it seemed unwise to risk him any further. However he returned to play before being substituted late on.
Treatment room O’Mahony’s knock is reportedly of a trivial nature but John Ryan, a key member of the front-row, won’t be back for another two or three weeks. Ulster’s Iain Henderson departed early on for a HIA test while scrum-half John Cooney suffered a nasty head cut.
Best on show It came as little surprise that Munster out-half Joey Carbery was voted man of the match. His second half try was a thing of beauty while his accurate long passing and general distribution were outstanding. Interestingly, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt was among the attendance. Rugby fans can’t wait for Joey’s head-to-head clash with Johnny Sexton at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
Ref watch Dan Jones from Wales had an easy evening’s work.
Next up Munster’s visit to the Aviva on the first Saturday in October means that the new rugby season is up and running in earnest. Ulster’s first chance of redemption will come against Connacht at the Kingspan on Friday. “They will have our entire focus”, promised coach McFarland.