Friday Night Interpro at Ravers

This weekend sees the first interpro of the season, as Ulster take on Munster at Ravenhill on Friday.  If not quite ‘must see’, it’s the first game of the season that’s worth fixing your plans around.  Both teams have made promising starts with two wins apiece, including wins on the road that were contrary to expectations – well, ours anyway.  Both teams are, of course, under new coaching regimes and the early signs are positive in each case.  And each is allowed to field a couple more internationals under the player management programme.  So the phoney war is over and the real season is beginning.  It’s hard to know just how much can be read in to the first two games, such is the array of missing arsenal, so we’re hoping Friday’s game will allow us to infer a bit more about the direction these sides are heading in.

Have Munster got themselves a pair of centres?

It looks like it.  We’ve been a bit sniffy about Oooooooooooohhh James Downey in the past but while he may be a one-trick pony, it’s undeniably a good one.  Trucking the ball up in the 12 channel is one thing, but it’s Downey’s ability to offload that’s giving Munster’s attack shape.  What’s been particularly impressive is that the likes of Luke O’Dea are alive to the possibilities, and the whole Munster game plan looks joined-up for the first time in a long time.  Outside Downey, Laulala’s quick footwork and direct running look a potent threat, and he’s also keen to keep the ball alive.  He’s always been a quality footballer and, while his presence in the Munster 13 shirt might not be ideal for Keith Earls’ happiness index, he’s here and they might as well get the best of him.

Have Ulster got any fly-halves?

With Nick Williams starting very brightly and Robbie Diack reborn (apparently he’s ashamed of his performances last season and keen to make amends), our concerns over Ulster’s back row depth are receding.  Worries at fly-half remain, however.  Niall O’Connor has never really looked above Pro12 standard, so it’s a lot of pressure on young Paddy Jackson’s shoulders.  Does he have it?  His impact off the bench against the Ospreys has been enough to win him the starting jumper for the Munster game.  His opposite number is Ian Keatley (and a certain centurion ligind awaits on the bench), who has had a reasonably bright start to the season.  It’s a good opportunity to watch a couple of young Irish fly-halves who are looking for big seasons this year.

Donncha O’Callaghan – same-same but different?

Last season Stakhanov looked a fading force, devoid of power and no longer capable of the old manic energy that characterised his best days.  But his performance against Edinburgh was his best in years. Heck, he even carried and – no, really – passed the ball.  As a senior pro in a young-ish team, perhaps Penney is asking him to show more, well, seniority, and actually provide some leadership.  Apparently it’s not enough just to be really great craic – who knew?!  Can he roll back the years for one last hurrah, or was the Embra game a false dawn?  Oh, and congrats on the nipper, Donners!

Ulster – Northern Saffers or expanding their game?

Ulster’s Saffa-inspired gameplan got them to a Heineken Cup last season, but to stand still is to go backwards in modern rugby, so we anticipate they’ll have to expand a bit on the template in order to stay at that level this year.  They’ve a Kiwi coach now (albeit a gritty flanker type who was never known for his ball-playing ability) and Jared Payne brings a creative dimension to the full-back position that was missing last year.  Their back three on Friday is Trimble-Payne-Allen and Darren Cave is back in the team at 13.  It’s a backline with good strike threat, so let’s see if they’re prepared to play a few more phases and try and get the outside backs onto the ball and into space.

It’s a shame it’s not a week further out in the schedule, allowing the likes of O’Gara, Henry, Tuohy and O’Mahony the benefit of an additional week and a place in the First XV, but in any case, there’ll be plenty to chew over on Friday night at Ravers.

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5 Comments

  1. Dave

     /  September 13, 2012

    It will be interesting to see how Sean Dougall goes for Munster. He was the lowest profile signing for Munster over the summer and yet he has proven over the first two games to be a fairly decent operator with a big engine. It’s great to see players who may not have worked out at home, go away for a few seasons work on their game and come back better for the experience. Perhaps a message to some of the fringe players involved in the Leinster, Munster and Ulster squads? Looking forward to this game, should give a better indication as to where both provinces, sorry, teams are at.

  2. Spike

     /  September 13, 2012

    Dave, agree that it’s great to see guys take the risk of going overseas to develop themselves rather than sit and gather splinters. Very happy to see James Downey off to a good start with Munster. While he has his limitations, he’s been a good attacking weapon, works hard and he makes the most of what he has.
    For the same reason, I am rooting for Timmy Ryan over at the Dragons this year. IMHO, he got tarred unfairly at Falcons. His scrummaging has been a question but then again without game time its hard to fix that. If he has shored that up (a big if) then his ball carrying make him a huge asset to any Pro12 team – witness his open field canter against Leinster last week.

  3. Radge Fan

     /  September 14, 2012

    WoC – I noticed you were twittering about JJ Hanrahan so you may be interested in this interview with him in the Limerick Leader. It gives a good insight into how Munster seem to rely on the AIL to develop their players (and JJ going to UL Bohs because he knew he would start for the first team and not hang around on the bench). Comes across as very ambitious and clued in – and well up for doing his talking on the pitch. He considers himself a 10 but has no issues with playing 12 – says he has learned a lot by doing that.

    http://www.limerickleader.ie/sport/rugby/hanrahan-one-of-munster-s-brightest-young-stars-1-4259035

    • Thanks for that Radge Fan. Interesting to see he prefers 10 to 12. Irish rugby could definitely utilise the AIL more for up-and-coming players, especially tight forwards who tend not to break into provincial teams til late. Wonder when we’ll see Hanrahan in the Munster team – a breakthrough around Six Nations time must be on the cards.

  4. Amiga500

     /  September 15, 2012

    What.
    A.
    Game.

    OK, first half wasn’t great (from an Ulster perspective anyway), but you need that to truly appreciate how good the second half was (at least in terms of entertainment if not absolute technical rugby).

    Standouts for me, first Munster:
    – Radge who? Keatley ran the show better – at this rate the ligind will be bit-part at best and Keatley will be the main man. Probably a good think long term for Munster – he’s definitely stepping up.
    – Downey is a beast. He was a major space generator for the Munster back line. It would seem ooooooohhhhhh definitely has its place. Will he get gametime in the Autumn internationals? Declan, over to you.
    – Lualua is a real 13. The Munster midfield defence were magnificient. Keet might have to get used to the wing.
    – Stakhanov was excellent. OK, perhaps not on the right side of the law, but you play to the referee. Another major factor in Munster’s tight defence.

    Now, Ulster:
    – Payne has class written all over him. He is starting to show just what we missed last year, Terblanche was solid, Payne has a touch of spectacular about him. Hopefully he’ll get another yard of pace back over time and we’ll see him continue to improve.
    – PJ eases the fly-half concerns. Cool as ice. Unlucky off the post with a penalty and the wind caught the conversion attempt. Looked much more confident in general play and his dink over Dougie was measured to perfection.
    – Lewis Stevenson was solid: Dan Tuohy faces a real fight to get back into the team.
    – The two ‘unknown’ acquisitions, Sean Doyle and Rob Herring look pretty damn promising at this stage. Both just 22 years young, both with time on their side for a lot of further development, both Irish qualified. Very astute business by David Humpheries.
    – Still unbeaten under Mark Anscombe. Thats 3 of last years Rabble12 top 4 we’ve now played and beat. Whats particularly exciting is that we’ve not played particularly brilliantly in any match, yet still got the wins.

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