Friday 27 January 2023 Dublin: 1°C
Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
# Grudge match
Munster might win respect - but the odds are still stacked in Ulster's favour
Munster take on Ulster this evening in the URC at Thomond Park.

IN ONE SENSE this is set up for an ambush, the kind of match Munster love, backs against the wall, everyone writing them off.

Certainly it’s a day (kick off 5.15pm, live RTE2) when we’ll see what they’re made of, the Patrick Campbells, the Paddy Pattersons, the Edwin Edogbos, the Eoin O’Connors.

On the surface, they haven’t a chance, Ulster arriving with a more experienced squad, a World Cup winner at No8, a prop who won two Six Nations titles with Ireland, a settled front five, the next-best-thing at scrum-half, the underrated out-half, the backline that is getting better every game.

The more we talk Ulster up, the easier it’s going to be for Munster’s fans to be motivated. They’ve responded before when they had to, when circumstances conspired against them, and when a hammering seemed to be on the agenda.

With 20 players ruled out for one reason or another, they desperately need their veterans as well as their youngsters to prove a point. John Ryan certainly will want to do so. The veteran never wanted to leave Munster in the first place and is back at his home club by wicked chance. Wasps went bust so he went home.

His battle with Andy Warwick will be worth watching, two good scrummagers who’ve never received the credit they deserve, a tag that also hangs around Marty Moore’s neck, not to mention Luke Marshall’s.

luke-marshall-scores-a-try Bryan Keane / INPHO Luke Marshall scores a try. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

In fact you can say the same about just about every Ulster player. They consistently get overlooked and consistently finish at the top end of the URC, and before that, Pro14 tables.

Take Craig Gilroy. The last time he played for Ireland, he scored a hat-trick in half an hour and was told afterwards that his performance was a ‘mixed bag’.

Take Nathan Doak. He’s the best young scrum-half in the country and still he hasn’t been capped.

Take Moore. Only Tadhg Furlong can lock down a scrum better than him in Ireland but his last cap was so long ago that Donald Trump was best known as a reality TV star.

The upside to being ignored is that you get to line out in matches like this, there with a point to prove, there seeking to take five points back across the border.

Munster, ordinarily, have something to say about that. They rarely lose at home and there’s a certain irony in the fact they got more credit losing to Leinster last week than they did beating the Bulls a fortnight ago.

That shouldn’t be the case because they weren’t all that hot last week. Yes, they showed resilience but the scoreline was sizeable enough in the end and the defeat would have been a lot heavier if Leinster had have taken their chances.

In contrast, against Bulls, Munster were excellent and yet so much of the post-match conversation centred on how average the South Africans were. Well, that’s nonsense. Munster made them look average.

Play like that again and they will win this one. But they’re coming up against a team who have found their groove, whose maul is arguably even better than Munster’s, whose backs certainly are superior, whose bench is formidable.

When Doak tires, John Cooney is there waiting. So is Gilroy to come onto the wing, Rory Sutherland to appear in the front row, Jordi Murphy in the backrow. The thing about having experience is you have certainty. You know they’ll deliver a fairly high level of performance because that’s why they’ve survived in the game so long.

The thing with kids is you are dealing with hope rather than expectation. Perhaps they’ll come of age. Perhaps they’ll be schooled. Most likely they’ll win people’s respect tonight. But most likely Ulster will win the game.


15. Mike Haley
14. Shane Daly
13. Malakai Fekitoa
12. Rory Scannell
11. Patrick Campbell
10. Jack Crowley
9. Paddy Patterson

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1. Dave Kilcoyne
2. Diarmuid Barron
3. John Ryan
4. Edwin Edogbo
5. Eoin O’Connor
6. Jack O’Donoghue (C)
7. John Hodnett
8. Alex Kendellen.


16. Niall Scannell
17. Josh Wycherley
18. Roman Salanoa
19. Evan O’Connell
20. Cian Hurley
21. Neil Cronin
22. Ben Healy
23. Simon Zebo



15. Stewart Moore
14. Ben Moxham
13. James Hume
12. Luke Marshall
11. Ethan McIlroy
10. Billy Burns
9. Nathan Doak

1. Andy Warwick
2. Tom Stewart
3. Marty Moore
4. Alan O’Connor (C)
5. Sam Carter
6. David McCann
7. Sean Reffell
8. Duane Vermeulen


16. John Andrew
17. Rory Sutherland
18. Gareth Milasinovich
19. Cormac Izuchukwu
20. Jordi Murphy
21. John Cooney
22. Angus Curtis
23. Craig Gilroy

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