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Munster well-stocked to guard against Ulster revenge mission

Dan McFarland will be eager to see his side show just what a much difference a year makes.

The scoreboard last September when these two sides met.
The scoreboard last September when these two sides met.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

FOR ALL THE positive green shoots of Ulster’s first season under Dan McFarland, there was a steep drop down the graph in his very first month at the helm.

A dark September night, Limerick, and a nine-try 64-7 pasting at the hands of Munster.

The result was treated as a watershed, a stark example of how badly a match can unravel when the northern province are not at the pitch their coach wants to set them at.

A little over 13 months on, they are back at the scene of their record defeat (kick-off 17.15, eir Sport).

“They had a strong side out that day, we had a couple of injuries early in the game,” recalled Dan McFarland this week.

An early concussion for Iain Henderson felt like a crucial loss at the time and in his absence the visitors struggled to provide much obstruction for a Munster side playing at a high-tempo, fuelled by the newly-signed Alby Mathewson.

“Things went against us, if you let those things knock you in games down in Thomond, you are going to be on the end of a hiding. It is not that difficult for that to happen, and that is exactly what happened that day.

We gave up a couple of scores early on and we never really recovered from that and I like to think we are a little more resilient this year because it is going to be tough. But we are hoping to put in a better performance this year than last year.”

That, you feel, is a massive understatement from McFarland.

To ensure that better performance comes, he has loaded with squad with returning World Cup players Jacob Stockdale and Jordi Murphy. Rob Herring was called to Japan late on too and he is at the heart of a robust looking Ulster front row with Marty Moore and Jack McGrath back at prop.

The surprise in the selection is at 10, where Angus Curtis is preferred to Tipperary man Bill Johnston, and the in-form Luke Marshall and Stuart McCloskey will be intent on feeding off the young playmaker’s efforts.

The 10 Munster held on to, meanwhile, is coming of age. News of Joey Carbery’s ongoing ankle trouble is somewhat softened by the excellent form of JJ Hanrahan in the season to date. The Kerryman has hit his stride in tandem with Alby Mathewson in what the Kiwi calls a ‘loose’ ‘Super Rugby’ style of attack the southern province have taken up.

“Stephen (Larkham) has been incredible for the group, a new voice,” says head coach Johann van Graan of the new backs coach.

“He is very respectful of what Munster have done and we’re going to keep that DNA with a bit of different detail here, a different way of looking at things.

“I’ve only coached against him but some of the things that have made Australian rugby special, he’s given us a bit of a flavour of that, and some of the philosophies.

“And then Graham (Rowntree) coming in, he’s a phenomenal man, I coached against him when he was the England forwards coach and he’s again so different to what we had before.

“His energy and his knowledge about the scrum specific detail, he’s been on the last few Lions tour, so we’re going to use that.“

On top of international coaching pedigree, Van Graan has added his returning World Cup stars to that mix.

Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander, Jean Kleyn, Chris Farrell and Andrew Conway are back from Japan and raring to go. Conor Murray is on the bench, which interestingly, has a Springbok-style 6-2 split. Munster are intent on not being found wanting for power.

Munster

15. Mike Haley 
14. Andrew Conway
13. Chris Farrel
12. Rory Scannell
11. Liam Coombes
10. JJ Hanrahan
9. Alby Mathewson

1. James Cronin
2. Niall Scannell
3. John Ryan
4. Jean Kleyn
5. Billy Holland
6. Peter O’Mahony (captain)
7. Chris Cloete
8. CJ Stander 

ReplacementsJeremy Loughman, Kevin O’Byrne, Stephen Archer, Fineen Wycherley, Jack O’Donoghue, Conor Murray, Tyler Bleyendaal, Arno Botha.

Ulster

15. Matt Faddes
14. Rob Lyttle
13. Luke Marshall
12. Stuart McCloskey
11. Jacob Stockdale
10. Angus Curtis
9. John Cooney

1. Jack McGrath
2. Rob Herring (captain)
3. Marty Moore
4. Alan O’Connor
5. Sam Carter
6. Sean Reidy
7. Jordi Murphy
8. Nick Timoney

Replacements: Adam McBurney, Eric O’Sullivan, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Matthew Rea, David Shanahan, Bill Johnston, Robert Baloucoune.

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Sean Farrell

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