Munster v Ulster: Teams named ahead of showdown at Kingspan Stadium

After a demoralising loss to Leinster can the Reds turn it around the URC quarter-final?
Munster v Ulster: Teams named ahead of showdown at Kingspan Stadium

Peter O'Mahony arrives for training this week. Picture: INPHO/Ben Brady

MUNSTER head into their latest must-win tie on Friday evening, when they face off against Ulster in the URC quarter-final at Kingspan Stadium, except this time they know that defeat will see their season end in limp fashion.

Either Ulster or Munster’s season ends this weekend. For whoever falls short it will be the end of a season that flattered to deceive.

MUNSTER:

Mike Haley, Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende, Keith Earls, Joey Carbery, Conor Murray, Josh Wycherley, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer, Jean Kleyn, Fineen Wycherley, Peter O’Mahony (c), Alex Kendellen, Gavin Coombes. 

Replacements: Diarmuid Barron, Jeremy Loughman, John Ryan, Jason Jenkins, Thomas Ahern, Craig Casey, Ben Healy, Chris Cloete

ULSTER: 

Stewart Moore, Rob Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Ethan McIlroy, Billy Burns, John Cooney, Andrew Warwick, Rob Herring, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (c), Marcus Rea, Nick Timoney, Duane Vermeulen.

Replacements: John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Gareth Milasinovich, Kieran Treadwell, Matty Rea, Nathan Doak, Ian Madigan, Ben Moxham

Given Munster’s most recent defeat, against Leinster’s second-string line-up at the Aviva Stadium a fortnight ago, it is difficult to see how they will turn it around.

Every team loses games at some stage, but all defeats are not created equally, with some of them ending seasons and, indeed, eras.

The loss to Leinster felt like one of those for Munster. In a game that did not really have any significance for Leinster, bar bragging rights and pride, it was a must-win game for Munster, given they required a victory to garner a home quarter-final.

Munster might have been down around 10 first-team players on the night, but they still fielded what pretty much was their strongest available side on the night.

Meanwhile, Leinster’s 15 were a hodgepodge of players stepping up from AIL and underage level, as well as a number of players drifting towards retirement, yet Munster simply had no answer.

And arguably the most frustrating aspect of the defeat was that Munster actually tried to be more expansive than they had been earlier in the season. From watching the game live in the stadium it was glaringly obvious that, despite the thrown-together nature of their line-up, Leinster were far more comfortable with moving the ball.

This clearly is a cultural thing. First team, second team, third team, it doesn’t matter. They are all clued in to the Leinster way and know exactly what is expected of them.

Meanwhile, the Munster players looks like a squad who have spent four years playing a risk-free, conservative brand of rugby and are now attempting to be more expansive, and are out of their comfort zone. And the reason they look like that is because they are.

The penny dropped very late in Johann van Graan’s reign that Munster were never going to win anything playing his preferred South African style of rugby, and while they must be commended for finally removing the shackles, it is probably too late for this season.

Munster now must, more than likely, win three games on the road if they are going to end their eleven year long wait for silverware. When you compare that to Leinster, for instance, who are looking at three home games to win a fifth successive title, and you have to surmise that it is unlikely that the van Graan reign will finish on a high note.

Ulster and Munster clash just six weeks after they last met at the Kingspan Stadium, when Munster secured an impressive 17-24 victory, doing the damage in the first half when tries from Stephen Archer and Keith Earls helped Munster to a 3-15 half time lead.

To have any hope of repeating this win Munster will have to be far better and more accurate in every aspect of their play than they were a fortnight ago. You would certainly expect a reaction from Munster given the embarrassing nature of that loss.

Tadhg Beirne and Andrew Conway have upped their training load this week and will hopefully take some part in the game, while the likes of Jean Kleyn, Gavin Coombes, Damian de Allende and Alex Kendellen are also expected to be available.

Munster probably need these big hitters firing on all cylinders if they are to down Ulster once more. The Ulster back line are probably more comfortable with putting the ball through the hands, so Munster will most certainly be looking to win the battle of the front five to give themselves a platform towards victory.

Possibly Ulster’s biggest weakness is at out-half. Billy Burns if a fine ten, but in reality he is a notch below the required level.

Joey Carbery had a very poor outing the last day against Leinster so you would expect that he will be motivated to put in a much more assured performance this time around.

When Munster beat Ulster six weeks ago it was largely down to the pace that the half-back partnership of Craig Casey and Joey Carbery put on proceedings. You can’t but think that the pairing could be the perfect horses-for-courses selection for this knockout tie.

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