Sean Farrell reports from Kingspan Stadium
IT WAS FAR from a Christmas cracker, and neither head coach was able to fully settle on a single over-riding emotion from a 19-12 home win to kick off the inter-pro season.
Ulster won out, but they missed out on a fourth try and fifth point despite being the side who kept their front-liners on the field clocking up minutes on the IRFU player management spreadsheet.
Munster, were it not for the absence of a red card in the opening seconds, may have felt the need to disguise a little of their joy after keeping the home side on such a tight leash.
“We’re disappointed we didn’t (win),” said Johann van Graan, “but I said to the group after the game that we really put our heart and souls into that one. the effort went in, and as a coach you can’t ask for more.”
His opposite number Dan McFarland also took note of Munster’s heart and soul, crediting the Jean Kleyn, Arno Botha and Conor Oliver led pack with out-muscling the home side and forcing them onto the back foot.
Ultimately, however, the extra quality at McFarland’s disposal paid dividends. The sheer presence of Rory Best made all the difference even before the Ireland captain contributed a clever carry and offload in the lead-up to a decisive second try.
“I was very impressed with Munster’s physicality in the first-half,” said McFarland, “they put us under a bit of pressure, hit our ball carriers and as a consequence it was a bit messy at the breakdown.”
Indeed, while Van Graan had reason to feel aggrieved over one refereeing decision, McFarland also had a bone to pick.
“I think Munster’s defence was better. I think they were intent on getting off the line as we expected.
They did a really good job of disrupting the breakdown, a lot of which was illegal, a few double dips at rucks, slowing us down. But that’s the way they needed to go.
“It took 40 minutes to change that up but fortunately we had a dominant maul. That was a weapon that when we were able to put into practice we made good use of it.”
The maul directly led to the opening and closing tries of the game from Rob Herring and Dave Shanahan. However, the incisive attacking on turnover ball that brought field position for the opener and created the second try for Robert Baloucoune was by far the most aesthetically pleasing element of a feisty inter-pro on a damp night in Belfast.
“James Hume made a really good impact when he came on,” said McFarland, with a nod to injury concerns for Kyle McCall, John Cooney and Louis Ludik after all three failed HIAs.