Le­nient line on dan­ger­ous play do­ing the game no favours

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - RUGBY / ROUND-UP / RESULTS - BREN­DAN FAN­NING

THE tone for this in­ter­pro was set with the in­dus­trial load of points dumped on Ul­ster in Thomond Park at the end of Septem­ber. Ul­ster’s predica­ment has been such that they couldn’t af­ford to be count­ing the days un­til this re­match — they’ve had a lot on their plate in Europe — but the com­bi­na­tion of some mo­men­tum now from that com­pe­ti­tion, and the na­ture of the Mun­ster se­lec­tion on Fri­day night, meant the home team re­ally had to de­liver.

In Septem­ber Ul­ster sent down some­thing close to the best they could muster, not as strong as the fol­low­ing week at home to Con­nacht, but not a mile off it ei­ther for a squad sorely lack­ing in depth.

The pat­tern in these games is fairly well set now: fill your boots in the home legs; ro­tate at will for the road trips. Clearly Le­in­ster are best tooled up to be very com­pet­i­tive in ei­ther, but Mun­ster were able to make 13 changes from the side coursed around Stade Pierre Fabre last week­end and still fancy their chances. Mun­ster’s depth chart is at its best since they started keep­ing one. Ul­ster have a way to go on that jour­ney.

So the down­side for the home team was the pres­sure to de­liver against an un­der­strength side. Add in the weather — it seems vir­tu­ally in­evitable that ev­ery Fri­day night in Belfast it pisses down long enough to soak ev­ery blade of grass in the Kingspan — and given the sheer grunt of the Mun­ster pack, that was some­thing they could han­dle.

It was work­ing well enough un­til they were sick­ened in the fi­nal quar­ter with a lovely try for young wing Robert Baloucoune — who surely should have seen red for his dan­ger­ous tackle on the air­borne Dar­ren Sweet­nam from the drop-off to start the game.

The only rea­son we can think of for ref­eree Sean Gal­lagher not to have sent him off was that Sweet­nam didn’t land on his head, and wasn’t badly hurt. This was pure good for­tune, and if the law needs to be rewrit­ten so that crazy tack­les don’t rely on very bad out­comes to war­rant red then get on with it.

It was also sport­ing of Sweet­nam not to tear the back­side out of it. Had he stayed on the ground long enough to put pres­sure on Gal­lagher — who was happy, on re­view, to de­clare it a yel­low card of­fence — the story may have ended dif­fer­ently. Last week, Gal­lagher had a red card over­turned. This in­ci­dent hap­pened lit­er­ally on the first play of the game, so per­haps that too was a fac­tor.

Pre­dict­ing out­comes on Planet Dis­ci­pline is an un­for­giv­ing busi­ness but it would be stun­ning if Baloucoune is not cited. In the space of a sec­ond, he man­aged to do ev­ery­thing wrong. He was blessed to sur­vive. Ref­er­ees’ man­ager Greg Garner bat­tles ev­ery week to clear his in­box of emails from dis­grun­tled coaches with an axe to grind. Jo­hann van Graan would be jus­ti­fied in lob­bing in his own com­plaint.

In the space of a week Mun­ster have got the short end of the stick from of­fi­cial­dom. It was clear in Cas­tres last week that Rory Kock­ott was in loose can­non mode, and Wayne Barnes should have spo­ken to him. How the Cas­tres scrum-half could then get off with three weeks for a gouge on Chris Cloete beg­gared be­lief. The EPCR press re­lease noted how his good be­hav­iour at the tri­bunal served in mit­i­ga­tion. Un­real stuff.

So Mun­ster had to be con­tent with a los­ing bonus point, and credit to Bill John­ston for hold­ing his nerve to kick the penalty that se­cured it. He had done well to nail the pre­vi­ous ef­fort hav­ing had to re­place the ball on the tee.

Still, in the space of seven days Mun­ster have gone away from home and lost games they would, with bet­ter ref­er­ee­ing, have won. It was their fifth de­feat on the road this sea­son. They will be glad to have Le­in­ster in Lim­er­ick on Satur­day.

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