Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus admits his side are learning to come to terms with Anthony Foley’s passing in different ways as they return to Guinness PRO12 action against Ulster this weekend.
After their rousing victory over Glasgow Warriors in Europe last weekend on a day that will be remembered by all at Thomond Park for the moving farewell to Foley – attention now turns back to the league.
And a trip to the Kingspan Stadium could be timely for a Munster side that have only won one of their last six clashes against Irish opponents – coming in this exact fixture last season.
History is on the line as Munster are unbeaten on their last two visits to Kingspan Stadium and have not gone three matches without defeat in Belfast since the Second World War.
But for Erasmus the battle for his squad is to try and quell their emotions following an distressing fortnight.
“It’s certainly not as difficult as it is for Olive and the kids and the family. How tough it was for us is really irrelevant. It’s for us to be able to go and perform. I think different management members, players, and coaches will handle it differently,” he said.
“For some the reality comes back in different stages… in the changing room, in the coach’s meeting room. So I think it will take a good while for different guys to handle it differently and while this is a hard thing to say, I think it will hit us continuously at different time periods.
“The pressure on us (last weekend) was not the result but to put on a good performance. That was immense because of the respect we had for Anthony and after that you come back on Monday and things must go on but you can’t go on because he’s not here. There were so many things happening last week and now the game is played and guys must try to get back into a normal week.
“I always knew this team had it in them to create this kind of result but with the situation and occasion we were in, I wasn’t sure that was the week. But yeah, with the quality of the opposition, it was a bit of a surprise to me. Certainly we are proud Munstermen and proud to have been a friend of Anthony.”
Erasmus makes five changes for tomorrow’s return – one is in the pack with Jack O’Donoghue starting at No.8.
While across the backline Duncan Williams and Ian Keatley form the half-back partnership with Ronan O’Mahony and Andrew Conway both returning to the back-three. Tomorrow’s game will also see Williams make his 100th PRO12 appearance.
Ulster Rugby were defeated by Connacht in Galway in round 6, their first loss of this campaign, and have not lost successive Guinness PRO12 encounters since February.
Les Kiss has made eight personnel changes – Dan Tuohy and Wiehahn Herbst have returned from long-term injuries and will make their first senior appearances of the season, having not featured since December 2015 and January 2016 respectively.
The duo are two of five new faces to the forward pack, with a further three personnel changes made to the backline for the crucial Guinness PRO12 encounter and Kiss admits injuries have not been kind to his side.
“Suddenly you think you’re alright and then a couple more go down,” said Kiss of the injuries.
“That’s the nature of the situation. We can’t concern ourselves with what we don’t have.
“We have to get on with it and back what we do have. The most important thing is the players we have, the mission ahead of us, which is Munster. It’s a massive game for us.”
Munster XV: Conway; Sweetnam, Taute, Scannell, O’Mahony; Keatley, Williams; Kilcoyne, Scannell, Ryan; Ryan, Holland; O’Mahony, O’Donnell, O’Donoghue
Replacements: O’Brien, Scott, Archer, O’Shea, Copeland, Griesel, Wootton, Goggin.
Ulster XV: Piutau; Bowe, Marshall, Cave, Gilroy, Jackson, Pienaar; Black, Herring (capt), Herbst, Tuohy, van der Merwe, Diack, Reidy, Wilson
Replacements: Andrew, McCall, Warwick, Ross, Joyce, Marshall, Herron, Stockdale.
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 29, Ulster won 13, Munster won 15 with 1 game drawn.
At Kingspan Stadium, 7.05pm Live on BBC Sport NI and TG4
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU, 139th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Gwyn Morris (WRU), John Carvill (IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: Murray Whyte (IRFU)
TMO: Tim Hayes (WRU)
Rory Scannell’s late drop goal secured Munster a dramatic comeback 15-14 win over Ulster that lifts them above their provincial rivals and back into the Guinness PRO12 top four.
Munster have now won three in a row at the Kingspan Stadium – the first time they have done that since the Second World War – but they had to do it the hard way in Belfast.
First-half tries from Charles Piutau – his first for the club – and Rob Lyttle opened up a 14-0 lead for the hosts who came into the game sitting top of the Guinness PRO12 standings.
But Rory Scannell went over for Munster – who dominated huge swathes of this clash – in first-half stoppage time to trim the gap.
Jaco Taute then crossed in the second half for the visitors but it looked like Ian Keatley’s misfiring boot would cost the away side.
The fly-half – Munster’s hero with a late penalty in this same fixture in January – missed three kicks at a goal and a drop goal and Ulster were clinging on to a 14-12 win as time ticked down.
But up stepped man of the match Scannell to slot a fine drop goal with five minutes remaining and although Jackson came agonisingly close with a drop goal of his own in the last two minutes, it drifted wide and Munster held on.
The home side came roaring out of the blocks and had the game’s first try inside five minutes.
Jackson’s kick to the corner was well batted down by Craig Gilroy despite the attention of two Munster defenders and Piutau was on hand to collect the loose ball and dart over for the score.
Jackson added the extras for a 7-0 lead but for the next half an hour that was as good as it got for the hosts as Munster turned the screw.
But Keatley’s misfiring right foot failed to make the most of a forceful visiting pack that established both territory and possession.
The fly-half missed a drop goal and dragged a penalty horribly wide in the first quarter and the Ulster defence held firm.
They had to make do without Darren Cave who went off injured forcing a backline reshuffle as Piutau moved to outside centre and Gilroy to full-back.
But on a rare foray into the Munster half however, the home side grabbed their second try around the half-hour mark.
A kickable penalty went to the corner and although Munster withstood the driving line-out they hadn’t counted on winger Lyttle.
On as an injury replacement for Cave, the youngster wriggled through three Munster tacklers to dive over under the posts and with Jackson’s extras the home side had a flattering 14-0 lead.
But as the clock ticked into the red at end of first half the visitors finally got their reward as Scannell went over in the right corner. Keatley compounded a poor half by dragging the extras wide and Ulster led 14-5 at the break.
Keatley’s second half didn’t look like it was going to be much better than the first as he smacked a penalty against the post to keep Ulster nine points in front.
And as the heavens opened, the game tightened up and neither side could find a breakthrough as the hour mark approached.
But Munster kept coming, picking and going around the corner and eventually the dam broke as Taute cut a hard line to roll over and dot down their second try.
Rory Scannell took over the kicking duties and duly slotted the conversion and the home side’s lead had been trimmed to just 14-12 with quarter of an hour remaining.
Ulster then wasted the chance to immediately respond when Jackson dragged a penalty wide and it stayed a two-point game into the final ten minutes.
Scannell then held his nerve while Jackson – the drop goal hero last weekend in Europe on the same ground – saw his effort drift just wide.
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 adults and €5 child, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie. For further information visit http://www.pro12rugby.com/final
28 Oct 2016
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27 Oct 2016