David Corkery: Munster still have issues but Ulster win was badly needed

'With the Heineken Champions Cup back next week away to Castres, a loss would have been a major psychological blow'
David Corkery: Munster still have issues but Ulster win was badly needed

Munster's Neil Cronin celebrates at the final whistle after beating Ulster. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

MUNSTER have a history of delivering when their backs had been nailed firmly to the wall.

They still have far more questions to answer than the ones they found on Saturday night, but this narrow win against a good Ulster side proved the fighting spirit is still strong. And with Munster rugby that’s where it always mattered most.

For those who have never experienced the thick and murky atmosphere of a Munster dressing room, I can tell you that it is where most of their games are won and lost and not a place for the faint-hearted. 

I can't imagine it has changed much since my time, but normally it was a place where honesty reverberated off the four walls and there was no place to hide.

When the balance between precision and aggression is controlled and used by the Munster leaders before they leave the dressing room for the final time, it is worth its weight in gold. Here they started like a bunch of players who were still asleep but very quickly got a nasty wake-up call when Simon Zebo was correctly shown a red card for a high tackle on Michael Lowry.

With only seven minutes elapsed, Ulster’s hooker Rob Herring crossed the whitewash so when Zebo was given his marching orders, we all sensed a first victory was on the cards since May 2014 for the visitors.

In any sport, a red card can trigger a reaction by those remaining on the field and that is exactly what happened on this occasion.

Alex Kendellen was the match-winner for Munster. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Alex Kendellen was the match-winner for Munster. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Johann van Graan has come in for a massive amount of criticism over the last few months. I was shocked and somewhat disappointed when he was interviewed after the game and suggested that the players had stuck to the game-plan because that couldn’t be anything further from the truth.

When they were reduced to 14 players after 15 minutes?

This victory only transpired because the players on the field somehow found a way to win it. I can assure you it wasn’t because of what van Graan or any of his coaching ticket said!

Gavin Coombes of Munster is tackled by Alan O’Connor and Andrew Warwick of Ulster at Thomond Park. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Gavin Coombes of Munster is tackled by Alan O’Connor and Andrew Warwick of Ulster at Thomond Park. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

This was scramble rugby at its finest and while the visitors probably thought the game was in the bag when Zebo was dismissed they sat back. This allowed for Munster to turn the tide and it was the leadership qualities of Mike Haley and Tadgh Beirne who led from the front that showed the remaining players what was needed.

Man of the Match Beirne who only started the game because of Peter O’Mahony’s very late withdrawal was simply inspirational in all he did and must have impressed the watching Andy Farrell.

Not only did he put his body on the line time after time at the breakdown and steal so much of Ulster’s possession, but he also contributed significantly at the scrum and line-out.

Interesting Beirne also was handed the captain's armband in O’Mahony’s absence. He proved a worthy captain.

DEPTH

Apart from one poor kick which went directly into touch, Munster’s full-back also played a key role in grinding out this much-needed victory.

Between himself, Sean French and Shane Daly, who replaced French in the second half, the trio cleverly and diligently worked their socks off to make up for Zebo’s loss and the Ulster playmakers failed in their attempts to take advantage.

A key ingredient all good full-backs have is the ability to read the flow of the game and predict where the opposition will look to kick to gain territory. Not once did Haley get caught out and like Beirne his bravery was a major factor.

I doubt it very much that this latest 'against the odds' win for the men in red will mean they think all is right in the world. 

With the Heineken Champions Cup hopefully resuming next week with an away trip to Castres, a loss would have been a major psychological blow.

The road ahead of Munster rugby is long with many pitfalls to navigate but wins like this one will keep us all anticipating that the glory days will return once again.

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