Munster never really got out of the traps on Saturday night in Ravenhill as their 100 per
cent start to the season came undone at the hands of an Ulster side that badly needed the victory.
Coach Tony McGahan rested some of his big hitters for the trip to Belfast but surely didn’t anticipate a performance which was described by one match reporter as “painfully directionless”.
Seldom have such words accompanied most Munster displays in recent years, even those that have ended in defeat. And seldom have Munster carried so limp an offensive threat, as the final score more than indicated.
Two first-half tries from Fijian wing Timosi Negasa set Matt Williams’s side for a badly needed win as they look set for a season-long battle with Connacht for that third Heineken Cup spot.
For those Munster fans that made the trip north, this was a true test of devotion and patience. Much of the rugby was, in truth, turgid.
For this was a match littered with aimless kicking and poor decision making aplenty, with Peter Stringer doing little to persuade McGahan that he should be once again the big cheese at scrum-half.
One wonders will Stringer, an outstanding servant to the province for over a decade, look elsewhere for more regular match action come the end of the season. Time will tell.
Despite the defeat, Munster remain top of the league on 22 points, three clear of the Ospreys who have a match in hand.
The top two’s paths will not cross until the New Year, while their meeting at Thomond
Park on the last weekend of the season in mid-May could be, who knows, a title decider.
Between now and Christmas, Munster have an intriguing set of fixtures which could consolidate, Saturday’s defeat aside, their encouraging start to both league and European campaigns.
The visit to the new Parc y Scarlets on November 28th should make for an intriguing night in Llanelli, while the festive season fixtures involve a trip to Galway to face Connacht (December 28th) while Ulster visit Thomond Park on January 3rd.
The back-to-back Heineken Cup meetings with Clermont Auvergne (December 7th, away; December 13th, home) will be fascinating, especially given last year’s ERC thriller in France.
But next up: the small matter of hosting New Zealand for the official opening of the redeveloped Thomond Park on Tuesday, November 18th (kick-off time to be confirmed).
In an era when test teams rarely if ever play provinces given the vagaries of professionalism, this ought to be one of this great stadium’s greatest ever occasions.
And the prospect of three Kiwis facing their fellow countrymen adds an additional element of intrigue to this showdown, 30 years after that famous day in Limerick. And what an occasion it should be. Who knows – someone might write a play about it!