There is no doubt that Ulster will be favourites to get the better of Munster in their Ravenhill quarter-final, especially as the Johann van Graan’s squad will be licking their wounds after not being able to beat what was a supposedly weakened Leinster, though I don’t really think such a side exists.
Having said that Munster are the sort of team who can dig deep so Ulster will know that they will have to be really sharp and right on top of their game for this last eight tie.
Hosting Munster isn’t a bad outcome for Dan McFarland and the squad and though you also have to take into account of the fact that Munster beat them a few weeks ago I’d be hopeful that Ulster will have learned their lesson from that occasion and that their performance that night was more about the week before when they had gone out of Europe.
They’ll be nervous about an inter-pro with Munster but with so much riding on this one you’d think that that would bring out a better performance from Ulster.
I think Ulster could have played better on Friday but still did enough to beat the Sharks and as the South Africans maybe don’t travel as well it mightn’t have been a bad thing had Ulster bagged their home knockout game against either the Sharks again, or the Bulls, had either of those scenarios come to pass in what was a dramatic weekend of chopping and changing in the URC’s top four.
Something like that just might have been better for Ulster than another inter-pro with Munster.
Munster will be feeling very sorry for themselves, and the way Leinster defended against them last night maybe gives Ulster a bit of a blueprint in how to cope with Munster’s attack.
But I also wonder if Munster might decide to go back to a bit of a power game for their visit to Belfast as it looked like they were trying to find space and outsmart Leinster but just couldn’t do it.
Leinster are the best team around and even their seconds showed that at the Aviva last night and because of that I can’t help but wonder if Munster are going to come at this quarter-final by just trying to take Ulster on up front and do the job there.
They might think they have a better chance of winning again at Ravenhill if they do that.
But Ulster are looking in good shape and they played really well throughout most of Friday night’s game with the Sharks. The fact that they fell away late on is probably mostly down to the fact that the South Africans have a handful of ridiculously talented athletes who if they can get a bit of space can hurt you from anywhere.
That game was dead and buried but then the Sharks did what they can do. Yes, Ulster fell away, but they mostly did everything right and were probably thinking that a bonus point was there to be chased and taken to maximise their chances of potentially finishing up second in the table.
Munster can’t counter like the Sharks managed to do from deep, but they can threaten in other ways though if it’s a dry night and they try to turn it into an arm-wrestle they will probably struggle in Belfast.
It’s also worth pointing out that Ulster created a lot of opportunities against the Sharks but that was because of the way the South Africans defend and that space on the edges won’t be so easy to find against Munster.
Ulster will have to work a lot harder to get those chances in the quarter-final and I think it will be a different type of game, but I’d be hopeful that we’ll still see good rugby from Ulster and plenty of them still putting it through the hands and into space.
I can’t wait for it.
Andrew Trimble is part of the Premier Sports team that brings live coverage of every Ulster game home and away throughout the season in the United Rugby Championship.
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