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07th Dec 2014

Leinster and Munster in the doghouse after Champions Cup defeats

Connacht and Ulster kept their campaigns alive this weekend

Patrick McCarry

Every time an Irish rugby supporter begins to feel confident, the wheels are smacked loose

When SportsJOE rugby columnists David Wallace and Paul Warwick predicted four wins from four, this weekend, for the Irish provinces, few stepped forward to argue otherwise.

Instead, we reflect on the action with Ulster and Connacht victorious but Leinster and Munster licking their wounds after damaging defeats. Here are the main talking points from a middling weekend of Champions and Challenge Cup action.

Leinster lacking attacking spark

Harlequins director of rugby Conor O’Shea declared after is team’s 24-18 win over Leinster that his players were primed for a scrap. Leinster knew they would have to match Quins for physicality and sheer nastiness but offered little else.

Rob Kearney is tackled by George Lowe 7/12/2014

Jimmy Gopperth made two excellent line breaks in the first half, Darragh Fanning was rewarded to being brave in a kick-chase and Rhys Ruddock earned 55 of the toughest metres he will ever make with 14 carries. There was no real spark or bums-off-seats moments, however, and, considering Leinster’s international talents, it was a depressing aspect of the province’s game. Apart from RDS wins over Cardiff and Scarlets, Matt O’Connor’s side have been listless this season.

Turnovers proving costly for blues and reds

With Ireland clinical with the few attacking chances afforded them against South Africa and Australia, one would have hoped that form would translate into the Champions Cup. On the contrary, both Leinster and Munster made frequent trips to the 22 and returned with nothing.

Clermont and Harlequins delivered ferocious hits and insatiable tackling appetites. Lack of front-foot ball led to rushed decision-making, pushed passes and sloppy errors. Leinster and Munster were turned over on a combined 30 occasions. The fillip that provides for defending teams cannot  be underestimated. Hole punchers such as Dave Kilcoyne, Cian Healy and Sean O’Brien were dearly missed.

Ruan Pienaar proves his worth to Ulster again

The South African scrum-half’s calm, calculating manner permeates throughout his team whenever he is at his pomp. It is no surprise that, with Pienaar back in the No.9 jersey, Ulster were in try-scoring form again.

Piennar made up for time lost to injury rehab by scoring a try – following a fine Darren Cave burst – teeing up Tommy Bowe for his score and throwing himself into the rolling maul that resulted in Rory Best’s bonus point try.

Connacht racking up the wins

Pat Lam’s men now have seven wins this season and are looking good for a top six league finish and a place in the knock-out stages of the Challenge Cup. They will face a sterner test away to Bayonne, next weekend, than they did in Galway on Saturday night but, for now, let us rejoice in another bonus point victory and a genuine fourth province in flying form.

Dave McSharry celebrates his try with Bundee Aki 6/12/2014

Munster need one of the biggest ever ‘Munster’ performances to stay alive

Before they lost in the Top 14 quarter-finals in May of this year, Clermont Auvergne had won 77 straight games at Stade Marcel Michelin. The French bruisers were then defeated 21-20 by Montpellier in August and the aura of invincibility was slipping. Clermont have improved from a slow start to the year and firmly believe that this could finally be the year to claim a European Cup. They made an emphatic statement of intent on Saturday as they become only the second team, since Leicester Tigers, to beat Munster at Thomond Park.

Tommy O'Donnell tackled by Wesley Fofana 6/12/2014

Munster announced themselves as serious Heineken Cup contenders when they lacerated Toulouse in May 2000. Anthony Foley says his players owe the Munster badge after their 16-9 humbling in Limerick. They can go into early Champions Cup folklore if they can reverse that result in a menacing, seething arena in the south of France.

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