MUNSTER coach Tony McGahan received a soberingmessage at Ravenhill on Saturday night — the thrust of it being that second-string teams don’t often survive the Belfast rugby experience.
As his Munster players enjoy a mid-term break, McGahan will spend much of the week examining what could best be described as a rugby version of a video nasty, a recording that will reveal a technically flawed and error-strewn display by a team that was not up to this Magners League task.
In his disappointment at the first loss of the season, McGahan didn’t mask his annoyance at the failure to fulfil the promise he expected.
“We made lots of changes but we had 12 of the 22 from last week’s squad (Heineken Cup win over Sale); webelieve we have a very good squad and we were confident going into the game,” he said.
Unfortunately, Munster didn’t match McGahan’s expectations, and Ulster highlighted the futility of playing competitive rugby with less than a full deck. At a 4/1 shot with the bookmakers, the home side, and the fans brave enough to back them, could hardly believe their luck.
“Yes, technically, we were very poor, particularly in defence. Our first-up tackling left a lot to be desired, we were beaten at the contact area and our kicking in the first half really cost us dearly in terms of field position. Ulster led at half time mainly due to our mistakes and we have to shoulder the blame,” admitted McGahan.
Without playmaker Ronan O’Gara and heavyweights Paul O’Connell, David Wallace, John Hayes and Donncha O’Callaghan, Munster struggled to cope with the intensity of the Ulster challenge up front.
Sure, Mick O’Driscoll and Alan Quinlan squared up to the Ulster forward challenge, but too many of the home side were in the mood for redemption after a disappointing Heineken Cup opening.
Stephen Ferris and David Pollock not only challenged successfully for possession on the deck, but they made life difficult for the Munster defence that creaked and groaned as wingers Andrew Trimble and Timoci Nagusa were deployed at every opportunity and from different strike angles. Munster, apart from one brave try-scoring bid from Anthony Horgan, a couple of thrusts from Ian Dowling and the usual urgency from Lifeimi Mafi, had little to offer by way of attacking options.
McGahan put this failure down to a poor team display rather than to individuals, but there was an element of individual weakness as well.
This young Ulster team have been struggling along together this season, while Munster have been blessed by the availability, for the most part, of all the top players. This was the first time in weeks when necessity and choice dictated otherwise, and they came up short.
When Munster needed inspiration, there was really nobody to provide it.
The coming days will be filled with opportunity to devise a correction plan, but it won’t be easy for a frustrated McGahan.
“I can’t think of one real positive; there were some parts of the performance that were okay, but we’re supposed to be setting standards and I can’t think of anything much we did that came up to the standards we have set for ourselves.”
Munster opened the scoring but subsequently failed to make any serious impression on the contest.
Ulster won the toss, elected to play against the wind but played most of the good rugby in the opening quarter during which they dominated possession and position. Inevitably, they equalised when Ian Humphreys, an 11th-minute replacement for the injured Niall O’Connor, knocked over a simple penalty attempt.
Ulster scorched into the lead after 25 minutes when Nagusa was sent in at the posts by Paddy Wallace, after a scintillating run by Trimble, and Humphreys converted before Warwick pulled back three points with a penalty.
With control of the ball and the field, Ulster went further ahead when Nagusa got in for his second try of the evening to secure a 15-6 lead.
Munster’s Anthony Horgan was denied a try by the fingertips of Bryn Cunningham just before the break, their only real chance of the period. They had their best spell of possession in the third quarter, but, typical of their evening, conceded a try when Isaac Boss broke away for a score that Humphreys converted.
ULSTER: B Cunningham; T Nagusa, D Cave, P Wallace, A Trimble; N O’Connor, C Willis; J Fitzpatrick, R Best (capt), BJ Botha; E O’Donoghue, R Caldwell; S Ferris, R Diack, D Pollock.
Replacements: I Humphreys for O’Connor (11, inj), T Court for Fitzpatrick (48), I Boss for Willis (51), C Del Fava for O’Donoghue (67), T Anderson for Ferris, M McCrea for Cunningham (both 70), N Brady for Best (72), C Del Fava for Caldwell (48-56),
MUNSTER: D Hurley; A Horgan, B Murphy, L Mafi, I Dowling; P Warwick, P Stringer; F Pucciariello, D Fogarty, T Buckley; M O’Driscoll (capt), D Ryan; A Quinlan, J Melck, J O’Sullivan.
Replacements: M Prendergast for Stringer, J Manning for Hurley, J Coughlan for O’Sullivan (all 50), K Lewis for Horgan (71), D Hurley for Buckley (72), M Melbourne for Quinlan (75), Buckley for Pucciariello (77, inj)
Referee: A Rolland (IRFU)
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