Mighty Munster Too Strong For Ulster
Munster v Ulster
After a rousing three out of three wins for Ireland in the Autumn Internationals, the main focus now goes back to club competitions where Munster face Ulster in the Guinness Pro12 at Thomond Park on Friday.
Munster were slow starters in the Pro12, losing two of their opening four matches, but a morale-boosting 34-23 victory over Leinster kick-started their season and they haven’t looked back. Victories over Cardiff, Scarlets and Newport have lifted them up to third in the table, and they’ve also won both of their European Rugby Champions Cup Pool games, against Sale and Saracens.
Ulster have struggled in Europe, losing both of their Pool Three games, but domestically their form has followed a similar pattern to Munster’s. A slow start included a shock defeat against Zebre, but they have picked up since, winning their last four Pro12 games in a row, culminating in last weekend’s impressive win over Ospreys, which brought them level on points with the league leaders.
Dave O’Callaghan returned to action for the first time since February in last Friday’s victory at Newport, but Munster still have a lengthy injury list. Donnacha Ryan, Damien Varley, Mike Sherry, Keith Earls, Cian Bohane and James Cronin are all out, whilst Eubesio Guinazu has a hamstring problem and both Conor Murray and Andrew Conway are being monitored under the return to play protocols after head injuries.
After the shock of Chris Henry’s serious medical condition, there was more bad news for Ulster last week when fly half Paddy Jackson injured his shoulder in the victory over Ospreys. He joins Andrew Trimble, Luke Marshall, Jared Payne and Iain Henderson on the sidelines, but coach Neil Doak will have versatile back Michael Allen available, after his recovery from a dislocated shoulder.
Over the last five seasons, the head-to-head record between these provincial rivals has been even, with five wins apiece.
Ulster won their most significant clash during that period, in the quarter-final of the Heineken Cup of 2012, when they stunned the Thomond Park crowd with a 22-16 victory en route to their first European Cup final in thirteen years.
They’ve also had the edge over the last two seasons, winning three of their four matches against Munster in that period, including a double last season, secured with a narrow 19-17 victory in May. If Ulster win again on Friday, they will have achieved consecutive victories in Limerick for the first time since the early 1990s.
Ulster may have had the upper hand in this fixture in recent years, but despite their impressive win over Ospreys, it is the home side that goes into this game with the greater momentum.
With six consecutive wins under their belt, Munster are the form team in the Pro12 and although both sides have been hit by injury, Munster have greater strength in depth than their opponents.
Ulster will be particularly affected by the loss of Paddy Jackson, and I think they could be in for a mauling. Back Munster (-6) in the match handicap market.