In a lot of ways, a professional rugby player has to have a goldfish memory to succeed.
The ability to forget performances like this might not be a bad superpower to have for a few lads this week. Failing that, they may be hoping some of the coaching staff have a memory loss episode of some description, given how badly things went in this game.
But before we get to that, let’s look at why they may be hoping for a case of coaching amnesia this week.
Throwing It All Away
So how did it happen?
To throw away a 17-0 lead in 40 minutes, you need a confluence of Terrible Events.
- Losing three senior forwards before you plan to replace them.
- Have a terrible display of game management.
- Play for six minutes with 13 players.
- Lose your only specialist midfielder in the 58th minute to a red card.
You could probably survive with a narrow win with one of those things but all four? Tough.
But we won’t pretend that these Terrible Events make Munster hostages to bad luck here. Losing Holland, Scannell and O’Donnell was bad luck, for sure, but the rest was all Munster’s own doing.
First things first, you can’t leave 7 points on the tee in any away game, regardless of how well the forwards are doing.
What was needed was clinical, ruthless, relentless exits. Intelligent kicking. Discipline. What happened was the exact opposite.
A seemingly cast-iron win becomes a gutting loss in 40 short minutes. Not good. But that’s what next week is for.
You either win, or you learn and we’ve done a lot of learning the last two weeks.
As per usual, players are rated based on their time on the pitch (no rating if on less than 15 minutes bar extraordinary circumstances), if they were playing notably out of position, and on the overall curve of the team performance. James Hart and Bill Johnston were not rated due to not playing and being on the pitch less than 15 minutes respectively.
James Cronin, Niall Scannell, John Ryan, Billy Holland, Darren O’Shea, Fineen Wycherley, Tommy O’Donnell, Chris Cloete, Jack O’Donoghue
I can’t really fault the starting pack’s performance. En masse, they were physical, accurate and dominant in the scrum and maul – both in the opening 40 minutes and for large parts of the second half. All three of the tries came directly from the pressure they exerted on Ulster.
Fineen Wycherley, yellow card aside, came on and had a really good impact.
That performance, at least, bodes well.
Jeremy Loughman, Kevin O’Byrne, Stephen Archer, Robin Copeland, Duncan Williams, Keith Earls, Alex Wootton, Simon Zebo, Calvin Nash, Stephen Fitzgerald
The forward replacements were decent enough when they came on without excelling. Stephen Archer’s good scrummaging was almost ruined by two very dodgy maul interventions.
I thought Duncan Williams had an OK game too. Some of his passing was a bit wayward and his box kicking in the second half was far from perfect, but overall he was snappy enough at the pace and made decent decisions the most part.
Keith Earls, Calvin Nash, Alex Wootton, Simon Zebo and Stephen Fitzgerald were OK. As a mix and match combo, I thought they handled Ulster’s cracking back line relatively well while there were 15 men on the pitch.
Not great, by any means, but decent enough.
JJ Hanrahan, Sam Arnold
Look – these lads just had bad games, there’s no other way to put it.
Sam Arnold had a decent game up until his red card, bar missing a tackle on Cave for Ulster’s first score but it was what happened beforehand was the killer. Arnold’s tackle on Leali’ifano was a yellow at least, a red at the ref’s discretion but fairly needless in the context of that moment.
That tackle gave the referee a decision to make and it was incredibly, incredibly costly.
He’ll know that, though. Arnold’s a young guy and just after five heavy games in a row so we can forgive a rush of blood to the head against his former club.
As for JJ Hanrahan – big chances come with big consequences.
I said pre-game that this 80 minutes would be a real opportunity for JJ to put a marker down as the season turns towards the business end but it ended it being a poor display. Forget about the missed penalty and two missed conversions – they happen – my problem with this performance was the unforced tactical errors, attacking misreads, poor exits and missed touches.
At times, he seemed to be trying too hard to make an impression and in doing so, made high-risk decisions (like a solo kick chase while down to 13 men) instead of the low percentage options required.
As learning experiences go, this will be a tough one but nights like these can be valuable.