After five consecutive defeats Munster revived their flagging season by fighting back to defeat Ulster at the weekend
By Phil Rice
With a crucial European Champions Cup match against Stade Francais rescheduled for this weekend, Munster desperately needed to turn their season around when they met Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium last Saturday.
Things were not looking promising at half time with Ulster dominating proceedings and leading 8- 3.
But from the depths of their reserves Munster demonstrated tremendous character and put in a barnstorming second half to upset the home team and snatch the Pro12 league points.
As a result Ulster gave up their 18-month record of 100% home wins in the league. The Ravenhill crowd were stunned into silence having fully expected the home team to turn the screw in the second half, but Munster had other ideas. Ulster also face French opposition in the Champions Cup this weekend when they travel to Oyonnax for their rescheduled match, a less daunting prospect than Munster’s task against reigning Top 14 Champions, Stade Francais.
The Munster back row was particularly impressive last Saturday with Tommy O’Donnell returning from the long term injury that prevented him from taking part in the World Cup. Excellent season He was replaced after 57 minutes by the equally impressive Robin Copeland. However the outstanding player on the pitch was Number 8 CJ Stander who was later rewarded with a call up to the Irish squad for the forthcoming Six Nations.
Stander has had an excellent season to date and the 25 year old, South African born player, has recently become qualified to play for Ireland on a residency basis.
Jamie Heaslip, whose form has been muted since the disappointment of the World Cup, will be well aware of the threat to his position in the Irish team from the talented Stander. In the short term with Peter O’Mahony and Iain Henderson unavailable through injury, Stander may be considered for the blindside position on the national team. Ulster certainly missed Henderson last weekend and medical reports are not good for a much needed return to action for the talented flanker/second row.
Another player who was called up to Joe Schmidt’s squad at the weekend was Leinster’s talented centre Garry Ringrose. He put in an impressive performance for his province last Friday when Leinster held off Connacht for a 13-0 victory.
This weekend Connacht will be involved in a top of the league clash with Scarlets in Llanelli. Pat Lam believes this game could be a major milestone in his teams effort to qualify for next season’s Champion’s Cup.
Scarlets currently lead the table with 36 points, just one ahead of Leinster and two ahead of the Westerners. Criticised Things are getting very tight at the top of the Pro12 and it is vital that Connacht get back to winning ways after their successive defeats to Ulster and Leinster over the Christmas period.
The Six Nations is now only four weeks away and Joe Schmidt will be anxious to reassemble his battered squad. A number of his players have been criticised for their lack of form since the World Cup.
And with injuries to some key players Schmidt will be very aware that to win an unprecedented third successive Six Nations he will really need to lift the moral of his troops in the coming weeks.