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Dublin: 11°C Monday 19 April 2021

Leinster, Munster and Ulster: 3 Irish provinces at different junctures

As the dust settles on a thrilling Heineken Cup weekend, it’s clear the provinces are at different rungs on the ladder.

Ulster's Darren Cave celebrates at the final whistle on Sunday.
Ulster's Darren Cave celebrates at the final whistle on Sunday.
Image: INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan

Reproduced with permission from Setanta Sports

IT WAS AN absorbing weekend of Heineken Cup rugby, with each encounter providing something different, yet exhilarating.

From an Irish perspective it was a mixed bag, as it was always going to be with two provinces facing each other, but the weekend did highlight that these three Irish teams are all at very different stages in terms of their transition and growth.


The Champions oozed class in an accomplished destruction of Cardiff, who barely got off the board. It was a joy to watch Joe Schmidt’s side play with such freedom and accuracy on Saturday.

Granted, Cardiff weren’t at the races for the most part but that does not take away from the sheer quality of some of the home side’s play. The sleight of hands, the penetrating lines and the outstanding link play thrilled the masses in the Aviva.

Brian O’Driscoll’s try in particular, where Sexton played a mesmeric blind pass to Luke Fitzgerald running an outstanding line, was a little bit special. Wouldn’t it have been great to have seen Ireland play with this sort of ambition and creativity in the Six Nations?

The Leinster and Irish backlines are very close to being the same entity so it is not a question of them not being capable of playing in such a manner. Much depends on the quality of ball of course but it was so refreshing nonetheless to see such innovation and execution.

There were question marks over Joe Schmidt when he first arrived at the province but if anything, the likeable Kiwi has brought Leinster on again. They are a team right at the top of their game, playing with the confidence and swagger of the best team in Europe. And that is exactly what they are at the moment.

A mammoth task awaits in the semi final but if any team can do it, it is the champions.


End of an era? That may be a little extreme but this is certainly a side in transition. It is never going to be straightforward attempting to seamlessly progress as a team when you lose a number of your key players but in all honesty, Munster haven’t done a bad job of it.

Written off in many quarters at the start of the season, Tony McGahan’s side went six for six in the pool stages of the Heineken Cup and are on course to make the semi finals of the Rabo Direct. The reality is that the yardstick for success in Munster now is the Heineken Cup and they have come up short this season in terms of the standards they set themselves.

You have to feel for McGahan in many respects as his tenure as head coach will ultimately be viewed as a disappointment, without a Heineken Cup on his CV. However, the Australian played a huge role in their two previous wins in the competition and also in terms of developing the Munster game.

However, the fact that it was predicted in many quarters that Ulster would overturn Munster in the Heineken Cup in Thomond Park for only the second time, is as good an indication as any that this team aren’t quite the force they were a couple of years ago.

Having said this, with stalwarts like Paul O’Connell playing the rugby of his life and quality coming through like Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony and Simon Zebo, Munster will be just fine.


Last Sunday, Ulster truly arrived once again at the top tier of European rugby with a massive win over Munster at Thomond Park.

The improvement of this side over the last 12 to 18 months has been remarkable, with their physicality a match for any team. Couple this with some outstanding talent out wide (Craig Gilroy for one), a couple of quality South Africans and you have a top class side.

A Heineken Cup final now looks on the cards along with the possibility of a semi final in the Rabo Direct. All this makes the dismissal of Brian McLaughlin all the more baffling. It is quite incredible that the powers that be at Ulster decided to replace their coach just when they are rising to the top of the European game.

I’m sure Mark Anscombe is a quality coach in his own right but I am still struggling to identify the logic in this one. Either way, this Ulster team is a force to be reckoned with and cannot be taken lightly. Munster will vouch for that.

Of the three Irish Heineken Cup quarter finalists, you have an accomplished team at the top of their game, a side arriving as a major force and a team in a transitional period. Not to mention Connacht who look to be building well for next season.

A Leinster v Ulster Heineken Cup final anyone?

Twitter: @TomFoxy

Read more at Setanta Sports

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Tom Fox

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