Leinster 33 Connacht 7; Munster 29 Ulster 24

Leinster 33 Connacht 7

Not surprisingly, after a 100 minute marathon against Toulouse 6 days ago, Leo Cullen made 14 changes to his starting XV, retaining only Osborne at 13 instead of 12. Osborne may relish the opportunity to have a quick recovery from a less than stellar display against Toulouse. Elsewhere, Cullen gives departing players Ruddock, Ed Byrne, Molony, Ala’alatoa and Ngatai a chance to shine one last time before the fans at the RDS. That’s a lot of experience to be losing for next season.

Professional rugby can be a hard game with not too much room for sentiment. If you don’t reach test standard, there may not be room for you in the squad indefinitely, although it is hard to escape the feeling Leinster (and Irish rugby) will miss their experience and know-how, and it is a pity none succeeded in extending their careers in Ireland.

In a statement of intent, Cullen gives Prendergast a starting role at 10 ahead of Harry Byrne – as if to say to Connacht, he’s ours, not yours, even for a 12 months loan. Foley is rewarded for a good performance against Ulster, ahead of McGrath, who did not feature off the bench against Toulouse. Keenan has just assisted the Ireland 7’s to defeat South Africa 26-21 in Madrid (having been 21-7 down), and thus will not feature again for Leinster this season as he bids for an Olympic gold.

Connacht are without Aki as well as Hansen and Hanrahan, but otherwise field a strong team, featuring Cordero for his first start, and giving Leitrim man Shane Mallon (22) his debut on the wing. The departing Daly gets a rare chance on the bench.

***

Leinster make a strong start determined to send their betters in the first XV a message that their places are not secure. Conan scores with their first real sortie into the Connacht red zone. Jimmy O’Brien makes it two off first phase from a line-out after a clever switch play by Prendergast. He looks to have the natural poise and X-factor Leinster have lacked since Sexton, although admittedly, Connacht are not Toulouse.

A promising Connacht attack ends when Carty kicks dead and Connacht concede a scrum penalty. Frawley exorcises his demons with a fine try, again off first phase, with Conan providing the assist. Leinster are making this look easy. 21-0 on 23 minutes.  I have been surprised by the dominance of the Leinster scrum – Clarkson has not been a dominant scrummager before, while Ed Byrne has rarely got a look in. Leinster are four scrum penalties to the good at half time.

Several determined Connacht attacks are met with equally determined defence and come to nothing. Cordero has looked a tricky operator the few times he has gotten a chance, but otherwise Connacht look second best in every department with the exception of the line-out, where they have snaffled a couple.

Conan is substituted by Deegan at half time. He has done enough to suggest his physicality was missed against Toulouse. Knock-ons in contact are killing every Connacht attack. Baird comes on for Ruddock and Ngatai for Tommy O’Brien on 48 minutes. Daly comes on for Carty and shows why he is not a 10 with a poor touch kick. An Ed Byrne “try” from close in is disallowed and Leinster fluff their lines in the backs. Cian Prendergast saves another “try” with a poach on the line. Ala’alatoa is then binned for head contact on Blade. Neither side has scored in 35 minutes as the match descends into mediocrity.

Sheehan – on for Kelleher – finally breaks the deadlock off a maul. Harry Byrne misses the conversion. Colum Reilly finally gets one back for Connacht despite a slightly forward pass to Jennings in the build-up. Milne isn’t able to sustain the scrum dominance achieved by Byrne and concedes a penalty. This is a much more even match-up now, with Hawkshaw becoming more prominent for Connacht, but then a missed penalty to touch and a simple cut-out pass from Prendergast to Jimmy O’Brien allows the latter to run through an almost non-existent defence for the fifth try. 33-7.

This has been a workmanlike if sporadic performance by Leinster, who seemed to be able to up their game when required. Prendergast was my man of the match and main point of difference between the sides, but Molony got it for obvious sentimental reasons. He will be some loss to Leinster and Irish rugby, and I’m not sure I would be a happy Leinster coach to see him go.

If I were the Connacht coach, I wouldn’t know where to start. Besides their line-out, they were second best almost everywhere, with their defence marked absent for several simple Leinster tries. With Glasgow only beating Zebre 38-26 at home, Leinster are temporarily on top of the table, but could be overtaken my either or both of Munster and the Bulls if they beat Ulster and the Sharks, respectively. The Bulls would need a bonus point win or a win by over 10 points to overhaul Leinster, but I would not bet against them as the Sharks have nothing to play for.

Leinster: J O’Brien; T O’Brien, J Osborne, C Frawley, R Russell; S Prendergast, C Foley; E Byrne, R Kelleher, T Clarkson; B Deeney, R Molony; R Ruddock, S Penny (capt), J Conan.

Replacements: D Sheehan (for Kelleher 52), M Milne (for Byrne 52), M Ala’alatoa (for Clarkson 52, yellow card, Clarkson for Deeny, 59), R Baird (for Ruddock 48), M Deegan (for Conan 40), L McGrath (for Russell 52), H Byrne (for Frawley 62), C Ngatai (for T. O’Brien 48).

Connacht: S Cordero; S Jennings, D Hawkshaw, C Forde, S Mallon; J Carty, C Blade; P Dooley, D Heffernan, F Bealham; J Joyce, N Murray; C Prendergast, C Oliver, S Jansen.

Replacements: D Tierney-Martin (for Heffernan 59), D Buckley (for Dooley, 40), J Aungier (for Bealham 40), D Murray (for Joyce 50), S O’Brien (for Jansen 24), C Reilly (for Blade 58), B Ralston (for Mallon 42), T Daly (for Carty 50).

 

Munster versus Ulster, (Thomond Park, 5.15, live on RTÉ, Premier Sports)

Munster are coming off eight URC wins on the trot and are missing only their first choice Nankivell/Frisch centre pairing for this crunch match against Ulster. O’Mahony, Zebo and Snyman come into the side that beat Edinburgh and their 6:2 bench is stacked with experience and with John Ryan providing cover on the loosehead side for the first time in 8 years.

Ulster are unchanged from their win against Leinster. They have won four out of five inter-pros so far this season and are coming off a four match winning streak as well. Richie Murphy’s team are going to have to step up to another level to win this match, however. Munster can win home advantage all the way to the final if they can win this encounter.

Match report to follow. Refresh page for updates.

Munster 29 Ulster 24

Any notion that Munster only had to show up for this match to take the spoils was quickly dispelled by a robust and combative display by the Ulster pack in particular. Munster took an early lead through the long arm of  Snyman reaching for the line in a trademark try only for Herring to respond with a trademark try of his own off a maul.

A lot of undistinguished back play followed with a remarkable number of misplaced passes and dropped balls by both sides until the Ulster pack took charge again with another close-in try just on half-time. With Cooney also having added a penalty in the meantime, this gave Ulster a 7-17 half time lead.

Herring, McCann , Timoney and Izuchukwu made a right nuisance of themselves at the breakdown and throughout the pitch while Munster had few moments to cherish – one of which involved Nash winning the battle for a high ball against Stockdale. Munster seemed to miss the thrust and creativity normally provided by Frisch and Nankivell in midfield and weren’t helped by an injury to Rory Scannell – Carbery coming on in his stead.

A no look Snyman pass was intercepted by McCann and Crowley found himself at the wrong side of a ruck – it seemed a harsh call., but Cooney hit the post.  On came the Munster replacements and Munster’s attack finally clicked – Nash scoring in the corner. Crowley nailed the touch-line conversion, and Munster had hauled themselves back into the match.

No sooner said than Ulster responded with a brilliant Izuchukwu run into open country followed by a try for Rea. Once again Munster responded with an excellent try for Daly. This match was seriously coming alive. 21-24.

Jager seemed to be making a difference, helping the Munster scrum get on top and Munster started winning penalties there. Unfortunately, despite having the 6′ 9″ Ahern to aim at, Clarke through crooked into the line out.  Munster finally mauled themselves into the lead but Crowley’s touchline conversion hit the post. 26-24.

Munster won a penalty at the breakdown and (unlike Leinster), correctly went for the posts, Crowley scoring from 45 metres. 29-24. It would take more than a Cooney penalty to win this one. Nash was lucky to escape a yellow for a deliberate knock-on, but in fairness, it was nowhere near the red zone.

Munster closed it out and their bonus point win ensures they top the table and retain home advantage all the way to the final. I suspect every other European team in contention breathed a sigh of relief the final won’t be on the Highveld against the Bulls.  Munster now entertain Ospreys, whose narrow bonus point win over Cardiff edged them ahead of the Lions whose losing bonus point against the Stormers wasn’t enough to retain 8th. place.

Ulster can take pride in a much improved performance and have maintained their steady progress under Richie Murphy. They have come second to Leinster in  the interprovincial championship or “Shield” as it is now called and still have a quarterfinal against Leinster at Lansdowne Road to look forward to.  Benetton’s bonus point win over Edinburgh means they qualify for the quarterfinals in 7th. place ahead of Ospreys, and the Lions who just miss out.

 

Munster: S Zebo; C Nash, S O’Brien, R Scannell, S Daly; J Crowley, C Casey; J Loughman, N Scannell, S Archer; RG Snyman, T Beirne (capt); P O’Mahony, A Kendellen, J O’Donoghue.

Replacements: E Clarke, J Ryan, O Jager, T Ahern, G Coombes, C Murray, J Carbery, J Hodnett.

Ulster: E McIlroy; M Lowry, W Addison, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; B Burns, J Cooney; E O’Sullivan, R Herring, T O’Toole; A O’Connor (capt), K Treadwell; C Izuchukwu, D McCann, N Timoney.

Replacements: T Stewart, A Warwick, S Wilson, H Sheridan, Matty Rea, N Doak, S Moore, J Postlethwaite.

 

 

 

 

 


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