Match Preview: Ulster Rugby vs. Munster Rugby

Andrew Trimble

Andrew Trimble will make his 200th appearance for Ulster

We left it late, but the bandwagon rolls on.

In some ways taking the win from a game that was meandering its way to a respectable 3-3 draw is just as satisfying as doubling Toulouse, it showed that we have the mental fortitude to hang in there right until the end and effect the smash and grab and take all four points. Not too many teams will take four points from a ground as hostile as the Galway Sportsground so although it was low scoring, do not underestimate how important that win is.

It’s now four on the trot for us and we’re hitting form at the right time – with our final three Champions’ Cup games to come and ten points from those three games probably required to see us into the quarter-finals our momentum could be the determining factor. Oyonnax away will be trickier than it sounds and we need give Saracens no introduction.

But first we have the small matter of Munster coming to Belfast.

Munster come to us with their fair share of problems: a back line struggling to get over the whitewash, a fly-half that can neither kick nor control his back line and a general lack of leadership in the absence of Peter O’Mahony and Paul O’Connell. A culmination of these issues mean they travel north off the back of five successive defeats.

A lot has been said about Munster recently, from the media and from their own fans. Some believe that head coach Axel Foley is out of his depth at this level and should be let go. Some believe that Munster simply don’t have the players to compete. Some believe it’s both. No matter what the reason for their slump, something I will not attempt to predict, they are still dangerous opponents.

Their losing run has to come to an end at some point and, ahead of their own European exploits against Stade Francais and Treviso, they will be desperate for it to end with a big interprovincial win against us. No matter what their recent run of results, we have to guard against not just our own complacency, but their desire to get back to winning ways.

It is set up to be another enthralling interpro – just a week after our bruising encounter with Connacht we must rouse ourselves for another test of our title credentials. We’ve set out our stall with those back-to-back wins against Toulouse and we’ve backed it up with that win last week: but it means very little if we can’t keep backing it up. But the belief is there.

All that needs added is the result.

Darren and the Bear sMake sure you call down to the URSC Info Point behind the Memorial Stand before the game. Darren and the Bear signed autographed and posed for photos before the last match …..this weekend it’s the turn of Dan Tuohy, who will be there between 2.00pm and 2.20pm (approx).

The stats

We are in great form and our momentum is building after winning four games in a row since our 3-8 defeat to Leinster in Dublin back in November, including two very impressive wins away to Toulouse and Connacht that suggests our troubles on the road have perhaps come to an end. We’re also unbeaten at the Kingspan Stadium in the PRO12 since May 2014 when Leinster were the victors.

Munster, on the other hand, are on the slide and are having their worst run since 2003/04 having lost their last five games to the Newport-Gwent Dragons, Connacht, the Leicester Tigers (twice) and Leinster. Even more concerning is the fact that three of those games have taken place at Thomond Park which is quickly losing its fear factor and attendances. In fact you have to go back to the 7th November for their most recent away win, a triumph over Edinburgh at BT Murrayfield.

However, Munster are unbeaten in their last three games against us including a pulsating 32-28 win in round 6 at Thomond Park where both sides picked up try bonus points and we also picked up a losing bonus point. But we can take heart in that Munster haven’t completed the double over Ulster since 2010/11, which is the last time they won in Belfast.

The teams

Les Kiss has opted to make four alterations to the team that defeated Connacht last weekend as Andrew Trimble makes his 200th appearance for Ulster in an unchanged back line. Up front Kyle McCall and captain Rory Best are recalled to the starting line-up at loosehead and hooker respectively while Lewis Stevenson has earned a starting place in the second row. There is a welcome return for Chris Henry too at openside flanker.

Seven changes for Munster, most of which are enforced through injury. In the back three Ronan O’Mahony and Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino are brought in for Keith Earls and Simon Zebo, while at half-back Ian Keatley is selected to partner Tomas O’Leary with Tyler Bleyendaal dropping to the bench. Dave Kilcoyne and BJ Botha are recalled as the props in place of James Cronin (injured) and John Ryan (bench) respectively while Mark Chisholm replaces the injured Donnacha Ryan in the second row. Tommy O’Donnell starts at openside flanker having fully recovered from injury.

 

Ulster Rugby vs. Munster Rugby

Saturday 2nd January, 15:00

Kingspan Stadium

Guinness PRO12 – Round 11

 

Live on Sky Sports 1

 

ULSTER RUGBY

15. Louis Ludik, 14. Andrew Trimble, 13. Luke Marshall, 12. Stuart McCloskey, 11. Rory Scholes, 10. Paddy Jackson, 9. Ruan Pienaar; 1. Kyle McCall, 2. Rory Best (capt.), 3. Wiehahn Herbst, 4. Lewis Stevenson, 5. Franco van der Merwe, 6. Robbie Diack, 7. Chris Henry, 8. Nick Williams.

Replacements: 16. Rob Herring, 17. Callum Black, 18. Ricky Lutton, 19. Alan O’Connor, 20. Roger Wilson, 21. Paul Marshall, 22. Ian Humphreys, 23. Sammy Arnold.

MUNSTER RUGBY

15. Andrew Conway, 14. Ronan O’Mahony, 13. Francis Saili, 12. Rory Scannell, 11. Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, 10. Ian Keatley, 9. Tomas O’Leary; 1. Dave Kilcoyne, 2. Mike Sherry, 3. BJ Botha, 4. Dave Foley, 5. Mark Chisholm, 6. Jack O’Donoghue, 7. Tommy O’Donnell, 8. CJ Stander (capt.).

Replacements: 16. Niall Scannell, 17. John Ryan, 18. Mario Sagario, 19. Billy Holland, 20. Robin Copeland, 21. Duncan Williams, 22. Tyler Bleyendaal, 23. Denis Hurley.

 

Referee: Gary Conway (IRFU, 19th competition game)

Assistant Referees: Sean Gallagher, Brian MacNeice (both IRFU)

Citing Commissioner: Eddie Wigglesworth (IRFU)

TMO: Alan Rogan (IRFU)