Dual blogged on IrishNewsReview.info
Well, that was interesting. Often the Leinster VS Munster October fixture is touted as the real start of the rugby season, for fans of both provinces anyway. Too often though, the game itself winds up not nearly living up to the billing. In recent years it has been all too one sided, or generally just dour. Well, 5 tries, 4 yellow cards and a fairly thrilling finish was what we were greeted with on Saturday,and in a lovely little twist we’ve probably learned less about both sides than we did from the less entertaining affairs.
Pressure ahead of the clash in the Aviva was higher than it has been in recent years. For Leinster, they have a shaky season to their name so far, and a loss last weekend which, though it wasn’t cause for too much alarm, didn’t do them any favours. For Munster, it’s just all pressure. Leaked internal documents, shock losses, losing the impenetrable Thomond Park legacy and a new coach with a lot to prove. Couple that with their losing streak in Dublin the last few years and really, there was always going to be a harder hitter come kick off. Both sides are suffering big injury losses at the moment, most recently for Leinster with Fergus McFadden spraining his ankle ten minutes into the game and looking at 4 – 6 weeks out, but Leinster’s are the worse affecting. Players like Cian Healy and Sean O’Brien can be replaced physically to some degree by Jack McGrath, Michael Bent and Rhys Ruddock etc but their presence and seniority cannot. There was a telling difference to Leinster once Rob Kearney took the pitch, such was the lack of battle hardened experience on the pitch until that point.
But Munster came at them hard, make no mistake. Connor Murray and Ian Keatley both having their best games of the season thus far in particular. There was a bite to the Munster attack that has been threatening but never materialising the last few weeks and they brought it to full fruition this weekend. Even on the two occasions they went down to 13 men they appeared completely unphased, playing as if they had a full compliment at all times. Even from the first yellow card Munster only conceded 14 points, both of which obvious exploitations, whilst they nabbed 6 points for themselves in the same period. Which brings us to Leinster.
Whilst we’re still, still, too early into the season to panic too much, the former 3 time European champions and 2 years running Pro 12 champions are looking a lot shakier now than they have thus far. To not be competitive on home soil until Munster started to lose players, and even then not being able to muster up much but a 10 – 12 channel exploitation and a penalty try, Leinster of old would’ve racked up points against any opposition with a 2 man defecit. There are players missing for sure, but one of their strengths this decade has always been strength in depth. A serious increase of form and ability is needed ahead of the European opening weekend in 2 weeks.
Leinster 23 – Munster 34
Connacht looked set to continue their fine opening to the season as they ran Cardiff Blues ragged in the second half of their Galway encounter. That is until Cardiff, just as they did against Leinster, found a second wind in the final quarter of the game. It cannot be stressed enough however that once again this was a game Connacht would have lost any other time, and lost “heroically” at that. A draw is never ideal for any team, but it certainly isn’t a loss. One area of worry would be the rushed and ill timed drop goal attempt from Jack Carty and the general lack of composure shown when Connacht got the chance for one last push.
Still Pat Lam and players like John Muldoon are keeping the culture brewing, young upstarts like Kieran Marmion are leading by example and once again, the big gun summer signings still haven’t even arrived yet! They sit just outside the top of the table at the minute, and the fabled grace periods of Six Nations and November Tests still haven’t arrived, when Connacht should have a happy hunting ground thanks to a lack of supply to the national side. Of all the provinces, belief is running highest out west and they are above and beyond the number one of the four to be watching week in week out, providing the brand of rugby we’ve come to expect from anyone but them in recent years.
Connacht 24 – 24 Cardiff Blues
If we learned little or nothing from Leinster VS Munster then we learned essentially nothing from Ulster’s trouncing of Edinburgh. One key talking point it provides however is that of Ulster’s consistency. Yes they were playing as wounded animals after an embarrassing show against Zebre last week, but a team of their caliber should not need such a display in order to muster up a performance like this. Ulster have always had a problem with consistency, it being the main reason they find themselves into the knock outs of all competitions and never any further, but it is an issue that is rectifying itself in small steps.
All that said however, Ulster were terrific in their demolition of Edinburgh, who are slipping off the radar entirely already. As a team with plenty of back room turmoil, Ulster seem to have brushed it all off and played through the chopping and changing. Who knows if we’re looking at Mark Anscombe’s, Les Kiss’ or Neil Doak’s team right now, but with a little consistency we could certainly be looking at champions in some measure.
Ulster 30 – 0 Edinburgh
Image courtesy of JOE.ie