Leinster and Munster winning ugly, sitting pretty 8 years ago

Leinster and Munster winning ugly, sitting pretty

The competition has been asphyxiated, chaff separated from the wheat and commentators warned off utterances of the 'H' word.  All is changed, and changed ever so slightly, yet the Irish provinces continue to defy the English and French shot-callers.

After two game-days of European Rugby Champions Cup action - and a whole lot of Heineken branding - the five pools are taking shape. Leinster and Munster are two-from-two but Ulster find themselves on the back foot. Neil Doak's men may need to win their remaining four matches and that includes a January jaunt to tussle with Toulon at Stade Félix Mayol.


Here are how the three Irish provinces are shaping up.

Leinster (B)

Proving their grit after falling behind in both pool games, at home to Wasps and away to Castres. Matt O'Connor's men have performed manfully given the swathe of players currently occupying Leinster's treatment room. Jamie Heaslip has stepped up with ball carries and line breaks in the gaping absence left my Sean O'Brien. Dominic Ryan and Rhys Ruddock may be brawn over beauty but the back row duo have been crucial in the province's winning start.

O'Connor looks set to persist with Ian Madigan at inside centre alongside Gordon D'Arcy while the return of Luke Fitzgerald adds attacking options to the Blues' backline. Shane Jennings, Mike Ross and the Kearney brothers should be back for the back-to-back Harlequins clashes. A slow start to the Pro12 but Leinster are getting the job done in Europe.


Munster (B+)

The added marks are thanks to Ian Keatley and his dramatic, last-minute drop goal against Sale. Anthony Foley endured a trying start to life as Munster's top dog but the league win over Leinster has had a galvanising effect.

The first half against Sale made for worrying viewing but Munster dragged themselves back into the tie and, sparked by Andrew Conway's try, pressed for the comeback win. Keatley has been attempting to shake associations with Ronan O'Gara since arriving in Limerick from Connacht in 2011. His drop goal screamed ROG and harked back to Munster of yore (2000-2008).


Keatley's inability to slot simple penalties at Thomond Park, against Saracens, is a step back but England out-half Owen Farrell also struggled to locate the target on the night. The Munster pack fought to a standstill in the first-half before CJ Stander, Dave Foley and Dave Kilcoyne came to the fore. A yellow card to Sarries' Rhys Gill proved costly to the visitors as Munster tightened the vice. Clermont visit Thomond Park next month and a home win should provide breathing room before the return trip to the south of France.

Ulster (D)

... for disaster. Doak's side are in the toughest of Champions Cup pools but they needed more from their opening games than a losing bonus point away to Leicester Tigers. Similar to Leinster, the 2012 finalists gave their opponents a head-start in their opening match. 19-3 down to Tigers at Welford Road is a chasm, however, and the second-half surge could not surmount it.

Andrew Trimble's toe injury, which rules him out of the December matches, is a huge blow but Ruan Pienaar was missed most in the opening games. The South African was peerless at Leicester last season and sorely missed this time out. The afternoon kick-off did not help the Kingspan Stadium atmosphere as Toulon visited Belfast but 10 leaked points just before half-time hurt even more. Missing out on the losing bonus point at home was the shrivelled cherry on top.


Scarlets await, home then away, and nine points are the minimum requirement if the northerners are to have any hope of making the knock-out stages.