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Rabo: Leinster Overcome Munster On A Bad Weekend For Ulster And Connacht

Brian O'Driscoll returns to the score sheet

Brian O’Driscoll returns to the score sheet

Fever in the Aviva indeed, as Munster and Leinster tore strips off each other once more in the Heineken Cup warm up to beat all others. As has been the case many times in recent years, kicks were the order of the day in the Aviva. Madigan and Keatley both put up good representations of themselves and should both now have eyes on the starting XV next weekend. Ulster and Connacht joined Munster in a deflating weekend, both coming up short in their respective fixtures. For Connacht in particular, things are not looking too good for European qualification as a result, but for the fifth week in a row they have produced an acceptable level of performance. 

Leinster and Munster, as they so often do, were fighting it out at the top of the table on Saturday. Not to say that the result was irrelevant to their standings, but as always this game serves as the teaser ahead of the Heineken Cup quarter finals. In that respect, both sides are in good shape ahead of crunch games with French titans. The biggest trump card for Munster of course being their exceptional scrum which caused Leinster immense trouble in the first half particularly. For the home side, the lineout was sharp and the gainline was being broken but up against the Mercs next weekend they will need a larger backline spark as, should he be fit, Wilkinson will likely provide enough counter attacking oppurtunities.

The game itself was high intensity start to finish for sure, though as per usual it was more bruiser than anything else. Rolland was having a busy game at scrum time and the breakdown and tempers were flaring, which is usually why there tends to be a certain dampner on some of the more flashy rugby when these two meet. That is of course until magic man himself intervened. Yes the sole try came from himself, Brian O’Driscoll, and proved once again to be decisive come the final whistle. It was typical Leinster, throwing bodies in so many areas that the Munster defence were left cross eyed. Aside from that one fleeting moment, the remainder of the game presented some choice moments of attack from both sides but little in the way of real spark, although Keatley bringing the game to within a point served up some potential for last minute tension, but this lasted little or no time as Madigan finished out the scoring with the last of his all but one successful kicks.

So, nothing all too much shown ahead of next weekend’s double Le Crunch, but even within that there’s not much to be gained from over analysis. This game year on year is a “win by any means” fixture, the performance of both sides rarely gives much if anything away, except that both sides are seriously tough nuts to crack. Roll on the Heineken.

Leinster 22 – 18 Munster

Connacht once more lost their way in the endgame, having run four games unbeaten, and suffered a narrow loss to Scarlets on Sunday. To be fair, they fought back from a completely one sided opening half and went one further than just turning the scoreline more flattering, actually showing a purpose and cohesion in their game that just makes the loss that much more hard to take. Like their neighbours in Cardiff, Scarlets brough a serious game to proceedings this weekend, that sits above their more regular form thus far. And Connacht simply couldn’t deal with it initially.

If we go looking for telling moments however, certainly the counter attack try from the hosts was the main one. Connacht, through Robbie Henshaw had just made an extremely meaningful attack on the Scarlet’s line, the Welsh turned over and marched the length of the pitch to dot down against the Westerners. One of those moments, those soul destroying Connacht moments that in previous years tended to pave the way to a rout. But on the subject of that mental strength we talked about last week, Connacht held firm and were by the end only a missed kick away from a draw. With Ulster and Munster in the schedule between now and the conclusion, Connacht could be in trouble for an unlikely qualification, but based on their season thus far, they should likely rule the roost within whatever second tier competition comes along, should that be where their ultimate destiny lies.

Scarlets 32 – 30 Connacht

Ulster arguably had the worst weekend of the lot, suffering their fourth competitive loss of the league to table bottom dwellers Cardiff. They can’t shoulder all the responsibility to be fair, Cardiff were pretty bloody electric, but that Ulster coughed up 16 points with Tuohy in the bin for such a cynical offense will not sit well with Anscombe and company. That they also hit the comeback trail and ill discipline ultimately meant it came to nothing, will hurt more.

It was uncharacteristic behaviour from both sides and was of course only comfortable viewing for one, but much like the Leinster and Munster game, the assumption could be just that Ulster simply had one eye too many on Saracens. The Heineken Cup has proven to be a poisoned chalice of sorts for them the last few seasons, coming so close time and time again but when the big hands are dealt there doesn’t seem to be an extra gear for them to close out the ocassion. With players like Pienaar coming close to the latter ends of their time with the province, as well as the departing Tom Court, the already departed Ian Humphries and more. they know that the time is now more than ever to get this title back in their hands again, and it would appear that this mind set has come at the expense of the Rabo on this particular weekend, with Ulster simply just not at the races.

Cardiff 28 – 23 Ulster

Image courtesy of irishexaminer.com

 

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