IT WAS ALMOST an archetypal Munster performance at Ravenhill last Friday – thundering start, steady points accumulation, a period on the back-foot followed by outstanding defence and comfortably building phases to get into a winning position.
The only thing that was missing was the Ronan O’Gara winning drop goal at the death.
Fierce Ulster defence and great pressure by Paul Marshall scuppered such hopes – offering O’Gara a pinhole of opportunity when he desired a window.
Ian Keatley was still on the pitch as the clock turned red and, having landed two drop goals in the match already, would have perhaps expected the ball to be slung his way for a dart at glory.
Still, with Newport Gwent Dragons at Thomond Park next up on the fixture list, there are early signs of encouragement at Munster.
Run and gun
With Felix Jones still on the road back to full fitness, Denis Hurley had a fine game at full-back and Luke O’Dea frothed with attacking intent for 25 minutes before Darren Cave knocked him over the sideline and out of the game.
Casey Laulala had his best game in red so far, with troubling running lines and flick passes aplenty, while Keith Earls retains his knack of being in the right place at the right time to deliver tries.
James Downey started well and made some important bursts up the middle but looked out on his legs in the final 15 minutes.
With James O’Callaghan and James Coughlan encouraged to join the attacking forays, Munster were worth every point of their 16-9 half-time lead.
Ulster, under Brian McLaughlin and now Mark Anscombe, have built a talented squad and Rob Penney would have geared his troops up for a second-half onslaught.
The white tide came and, initially, swept over Munster as Ulster hit the front through Jared Payne and Paddy Jackson.
Test of character
When Sean Dougall was sin-binned, it seemed only a matter of time before more tries would be conceded but Penney raved about the resilience that his new team showed. Speaking to TheScore.ie after the game, Penney said:
I was rapt with the effort that went in the whole time. When we were down to 14 men I thought our commitment to defence was terrific.
“Those sort of things, when you’re down to fourteen and you’re working hard, can just take the edge off you and take the edge off your attack later on.”
“We just ran out of fuel, I think, a little bit,” he added, “and with that some of our decision making was probably not quite as accurate as we needed it to be.
“But we were close and it could easily have been the other way around.”
In Penney’s final season as coach of Canterbury in New Zealand, his team scored 37 tries in 10 games.
In the league final, Canterbury scored four penalties to beat Waikato 12-3. Penney, like Munster, is happy to mix the rough with the smooth.