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Ulster’s tactical naivety cost them dear as Munster were there for the taking… but I still saw reason for optimism looking ahead

Mark Robson


Munster's Chris Farrell in a tackle with Jack McGrath and Tom O'Toole of Ulster.

Munster's Chris Farrell in a tackle with Jack McGrath and Tom O'Toole of Ulster.

©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Munster's Thomas Ahern loses in the lineout to Nick Timoney of Ulster.

Munster's Thomas Ahern loses in the lineout to Nick Timoney of Ulster.

©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Mark Robson

Mark Robson


Munster's Chris Farrell in a tackle with Jack McGrath and Tom O'Toole of Ulster.

The thing that frustrated me most about Ulster’s defeat to Munster is that against Leinster and Clermont, tactically they got it 100% right.

In those two games they found a way to win when previous Ulster teams would have crumbled, and I thought, ‘Hallelujah, now we have an Ulster team that can win against big oppositions’.

With that new found belief, yesterday I felt so confident 10, 15 minutes into that second half that Ulster were going to win it, but then they lost their composure and took the wrong approach mentally, which gave Munster the opportunity to suck in some air. When you give Munster hope in Limerick then they’ll strangle you. It took them a while, but eventually they did it.

Ulster will go home very upset at their inability to close that out.

I thought they got it wrong tactically at the end, they kicked the ball away too much. Giving the ball easily back to the Munster back three, Mike Haley in particular, and allowing them room to breathe was wrong.

I was commentating with Alan Quinlan and he said that Ulster gave Munster a chance to come in and steal that game, and Munster are the kind of side that if you offer them that kind of opportunity then they will take it. And it is not even a great Munster side, it’s one of the poorer Munster teams I’ve seen in a while. They were definitely there for the taking.

When Simon Zebo was red carded, Ulster had Munster on the back foot and were ahead on the scoreboard, but they didn’t make the most of it. They should have nailed Munster down and killed them off.

A great example was Nathan Doak’s kick at the end. At the time I was thinking, ‘This isn’t in his range’, and he didn’t get close to it. That was where Ulster showed a bit of tactical naivety. That was when they should have kicked to the corner because they had retained their composure at the line-out and Duane Vermeulen was taking everything from Rob Herring.

Stick it into the corner, get it to Vermeulen again, eat up the clock and maybe get another penalty or even maul over again.

To Ulster’s eternal credit, they were missing 14 players and 10 of them are internationals — I think if Iain Henderson plays that game, with the experience he has, there would have been different decisions in the last 10 minutes and Ulster would have known exactly what they needed to do to finish Munster off. Easy in hindsight to say, but Henderson is a huge loss.

So, Ulster lost a game they will feel they should have won last night, and in my opinion they should have won it. But they almost won without six or seven starters, so that’s a real proclamation of Ulster’s depth and the way the coaches have got every player in that squad playing to a high level.

If you look at it in the bigger picture, it’s a plus that I’m driving home thinking, ‘Goodness me, missing 10 players, Ulster still should have beaten Munster on their home turf’.

John Cooney will be a big loss if he’s not fit for next week’s Champions Cup game against Northampton, but Doak is a good player and I still have this belief that the Premiership is overhyped, in particular the lack of defensive quality.

I think Ulster will go to Northampton next week, even though they lost, with a lot of confidence that they have the side to break them down.

*Mark Robson is part of the Premier Sports TV team bringing fans all the action and analysis from every Ulster game live throughout the United Rugby Championship season.

The next URC fixture for Ulster will be at Kingspan Stadium against the Scarlets on Friday, January 28 kicking off at 7.35pm. This home fixture will be live and exclusive on Premier Sports – so join the team under Friday night lights for the next instalment in the Championship.

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