Ir­ish prov­inces re­tain con­trol over own des­tinies

Two more wins will en­sure qual­i­fi­ca­tion for the knock­out stages

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Front Page - Gerry Thorn­ley Rugby cor­re­spon­dent

First, the good news. All four Ir­ish prov­inces still have their Euro­pean des­tinies in their own hands.

Af­ter three rounds of fes­tive in­ter­pro der­bies, each of them will re­turn to Euro fare in Jan­uary know­ing that two more wins will en­sure their qual­i­fi­ca­tion for the knock­out stages.

How­ever, not all was sweet­ness and light over the week­end, least of all – sur­prise, sur­prise – when Mun­ster re­turned to Cas­tres on Satur­day and lost 13-12, in stark con­trast to the bonus point wins achieved by Le­in­ster, Ul­ster and Con­nacht.

Fa­mil­iar­ity breeds con­tempt, it’s said, and rarely more so than when these two lock horns.

No two teams have met more of­ten in the Cham­pi­ons Cup, and this 16th meet­ing fur­ther poi­soned the river of bad blood be­tween them.

Un­pun­ished mo­ments

Amongst a myr­iad of other tem­pes­tu­ous, un­pun­ished mo­ments, Peter O’Ma­hony could be heard com­plain­ing to ref­eree Wayne Barnes about a case of hands in the face of Mun­ster flanker Chris Cloete by Cas­tres’s Rory Kock­ott which was clearly caught on cam­era.

Mun­ster head coach Jo­hann van Graan wouldn’t be drawn on this or other spe­cific in­ci­dents in the match, but he wryly looked ahead to meet­ing the tour­na­ment’s ref­eree supremo Joël Jutge.

“The val­ues of rugby are pretty im­por­tant. We got spo­ken to about the val­ues of rugby in the week and I thought we stayed within the val­ues of rugby tonight.

“We just hope that due process will be fol­lowed.”

As seen dur­ing Le­in­ster’s de­feat in Toulouse in Oc­to­ber, a fiery, feisty game in the south of France is prob­a­bly not where you want Barnes, who was far more as­sured in over­see­ing the Ire­land-New Zealand game.

Here he again cut a flus­tered fig­ure at times, as Cas­tres con­ceded two yel­low cards to one and a 14-10 penalty count. But by the end, Mun­ster could only blame them­selves re­ally, given their four missed penal­ties, flawed break­down work and game management.

O’Ma­hony can­didly ad­mit­ted as much. “I don’t think we played well enough. Again, our break­down was very poor. That’s re­ally the heart of the game. We were beaten there across the board.

“I don’t think we de­served to win. There is plenty of in­ac­cu­ra­cies that we need to have a good look at.

“We are still top of the pool and that’s where you want to be. It’s an in­cred­i­bly com­pet­i­tive and dif­fi­cult group and the last two days have blown it open again.

“We had an op­por­tu­nity to re­ally get a hold of it and grab it by the neck. We weren’t good enough to do it. It’s go­ing to be two huge games com­ing up af­ter the Christ­mas in­ter­pros.”

Gen­er­ate mo­men­tum

Mun­ster now need to gen­er­ate some win­ning mo­men­tum through the three der­bies, as they head in to what is now a must-win game away to Glouces­ter on Fri­day, Jan­uary 11th. They still lead the four-way arm wres­tle in Pool 2, and two wins will se­cure a place in the quar­ter-fi­nals, al­beit now al­most cer­tainly away from home.

The fol­low­ing day Le­in­ster host Toulouse in a mouth­wa­ter­ing Pool 1 sum­mit meet­ing be­tween the two four-time cham­pi­ons.

The hold­ers re­sponded to Toulouse’s 42-27 bonus point win at home to Wasps by reg­is­ter­ing an 11th suc­ces­sive win at the Aviva Sta­dium with a 42-15 vic­tory over Bath, in front of a crowd of 40,261 – the big­gest of this sea­son’s tour­na­ment so far.

“It was im­por­tant we stay in touch be­cause it was al­ways go­ing to be dif­fi­cult to get out of the pool,” said Leo Cullen. “We are in a slightly bet­ter po­si­tion; we’ll see how the other pools sit but, for us, it is a sim­ple fo­cus to just go out and win two games and hope­fully that’s enough for us to top the pool.”

A change in the for­mat for the semi-fi­nal draw this sea­son means that a top two seed­ing would not only en­sure a home quar­ter-fi­nal but the car­rot of home-coun­try ad­van­tage in the semi-fi­nals.

Rac­ing’s un­beaten streak

Hence Le­in­ster could prob­a­bly do with Ul­ster dent­ing Rac­ing’s un­beaten streak when they meet at the Kingspan in Jan­uary, af­ter the Parisians main­tained their 100 per cent record with yes­ter­day’s 34-11 bonus point win away to Le­ices­ter.

Ul­ster trail Rac­ing by five points on 14, af­ter set­ting up a Pool 4 sum­mit meet­ing by com­plet­ing a fine 10-point haul over the Scar­lets on Fri­day night.

“If you go into the back-to-backs hav­ing won the first one and then take both of them, you’re in a re­ally good place,” said Ul­ster head coach Dan McFar­land. “Rac­ing are one of the best teams in Europe; both they and Le­ices­ter have a tremen­dous Euro­pean pedi­gree.

“There’s no right from the po­si­tion we’re in now to qual­ify. We cer­tainly have to go out there and earn it. [For] any­body who is an Ul­ster fan, or a rugby fan, Rac­ing com­ing to Kingspan is an ex­cit­ing prospect.”

Akin to Le­in­ster and Ul­ster, Con­nacht have set up a meet­ing at home to their Chal­lenge Cup pool lead­ers Sale on Jan­uary 12th, af­ter Fri­day’s bonus point win away to Per­pig­nan was then aug­mented by the Sharks’ sur­pris­ing de­feat at home to Bordeaux Bè­gles.

‘‘ We had an op­por­tu­nity to re­ally get a hold of it and grab it by the neck. We weren’t good enough to do it

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.