United Rugby Championship Round 6 Review…

Last week I had the good fortune to see my prediction of a clean sweep for all the provinces come true but warned that tougher weekends lie ahead. This week my predictions (for the Irish Rugby Fan Forum) were altogether more pessimistic, and unfortunately came true again. 

Leinster 21  Munster 16  

Prediction: Leinster win, although they won’t have it all their own way. 

Munster certainly put it up to a Leinster side containing 14 world cup players in their starting line-out and it took a fortunate Gibson-Park try following a rare Beirne error to get Leinster into the game. After that it was all nip and tuck and it took an outstanding try by Larmour (the only non- world cup player in the starting line-out) and an excellent performance by Frawley (an early substitute for the injured Ross Byrne) to get Leinster over the line. Gibson-Park was excellent but could have been yellow carded for dissent and failing to release the ball quickly after a penalty award to Munster. 

For Munster, two non-internationals, Ahern and Hodnett, were outstanding and did their chances of Ireland squad selection no harm at all. Both Murray and Casey had excellent games and Zebo was back to his best. Crowley continues to impress as Sexton’s heir apparent, but Frawley enhanced his credentials as a utility back replacement with an assured performance at 10 for Leinster. 

With Peter O’Mahony, Jack O’Donoghue, RG Snyman, Mike Haley, and Alex Nankivell to come back in Munster look well placed to do well in Europe with just Bayonne and a rebuilding Exeter side to beat in the early rounds. Glasgow will be hard to beat in Musgrave Park next week following a strong display against Ulster.  

Leinster face a more daunting task away to La Rochelle and will need to improve significantly on this outing to be in with a chance. They will be the better for this tough match with Conan and Henshaw playing their first match back in blue. Connacht next week will also represent a stern test, especially if Cullen rotates his side ahead of the La Rochelle fixture.  


Bulls 53 Connacht 27 

Prediction: Connacht will give it a lash, but this could be a bridge too far in the heat and altitude of Pretoria. Hopefully it will not be Carty’s place kicking that will decide the issue. 

Connacht were overwhelmed by some very physical and athletic performances by the Bulls who scored four tries in the first half. Defence coach Scott Fardy will not have been pleased by some porous defending.  The 35-degree heat and altitude were obviously factors, but in a “no excuses culture” Connacht will have to find a way to shore up their defence.  

Connacht played much better in the second half but didn’t get the breaks and just missed out on a four try bonus point which would not have flattered them.  Hawkshaw continues to impress on the rare occasions he gets to play but the Connacht pack played second fiddle for much of the game. Not many teams will win in Pretoria in this heat and altitude and so it was commendable how well Connacht stayed in the fight and played right up to the final hooter. 



Glasgow 33 Ulster 20 

Prediction: Glasgow at home have become a considerable force, and unless they have an off day or Ulster up their game considerably, this is likely to be a home win. 

In a masterpiece of URC scheduling, this match partly overlapped with the Leinster Munster clash, and so I didn’t see the first half.  Could the latter not have been brought forward an hour? Ulster have a fairly lengthy injury list which meant academy back rower and Irish u.20 international James McNabney started for the first time and academy hooker Zac Solomon made his debut off the bench.   

For the second time in a row in away matches Ulster surrendered a big lead built up early on. They led 20-3 against Connacht away and 14-0 against Glasgow in this match. Is there some psychological issue which must be addressed, or do they lack stamina and ruthlessness? Even World Cup winner Steven Kitshoff couldn’t turn the tide off the bench in the second half. Glasgow are a good team, but are they that good? Hopefully Ulster’s home form will re-assert itself in coming matches against Edinburgh in the URC and Northampton in the European Cup. 



Leinster have much to do to take on Connacht and then La Rochelle in the next two weeks. Their form has been brilliant at times but patchy a best. Munster have quite a few top players to come back in and look well placed to build on their success as URC champions despite their narrow loss at a packed Lansdowne road.  What other country can attract 50,000 to a mid-season rugby club derby?  

Ulster need to fix their away form but should be good enough to beat Edinburgh and Northampton at home, especially if they can bet a few players back from injury. Connacht continue to impress, despite their poor first half display against the Bulls in difficult conditions. They will give Leinster a hard time next week and probably Bordeaux the following week, all going well. 

Overall, Irish rugby is in a good place, and a few more players have put up their hands for selection to the Ireland 6 Nations squad in two months’ time. 

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