"It was brave... if you're slating Munster, you better make sure you win"
"I thought it was brave... "
Given that it was a game between the third and seventh placed sides in the United Rugby Championship, on Saturday, there was a lot riding on Munster vs. Ulster.
Both teams have had their seasons badly affected by Covid protocols, positive tests and postponements, but their issues are far from unique in rugby. Ulster had not played in 22 days before the game and were seeking to keep league pace with Leinster and Edinburgh. Munster had been active, but had followed up a limp Champions Cup win over Castres with a limper away loss to Connacht.
Heading into the match, several pundits had lined up to express their doubts over Munster's title-winning credentials and some questioned whether Munster would consider cutting Johann van Graan loose as head coach well before he left to take up his new role [next season] at Bath.
Former Ulster and Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris noted, on URC Unloaded, that the read he got from Munster supporters was that they had been loyal to the South African coach but that loyalty was not repaid with the looming Bath switch.
On the latest House of Rugby URC, [LISTEN from 1:35], former Munster outhalf Ian Keatley took aim at the province's recent critics, including one that had appeared on the show on the week of the Ulster game - Darren Cave.
Ian Keatley fires back at Munster critics
While some critics and supporters have been frustrated with Munster's often conservative tactics, it must be noted that they have won seven of their nine matches this year, are still in good shape for a top four URC finish and are two from two in Europe.
It is a fact the southern province were off their pace and intensity against Castres [win] and Connacht [loss], but they toughed out a 7-0 deficit and the 13th minute loss of Simon Zebo, to a red card, to beat Ulster 18-13.
"I thought it was brave of Stephen Ferris and Darren Cave here [on the show], last week, to be slating Munster so much," says Keatley.
"And then Ulster were playing them next. I was there going, 'If you're slating Munster, you better make sure you win'.
"And they didn't win, against a Munster side down to 14 men. Then you have to question - well, you're slating Munster so much but what about Ulster?"
Dan McFarland's side are third in the URC and have also won their opening two Champions Cup games, but their fans have now seen them fall badly against Ospreys and Connacht while they missed a golden opportunity to put their inter-pro rivals away, last weekend.
"The biggest thing I'm seeing with Ulster," Keatley adds, 'is they are playing well, with some great players and a great coach, in McFarland, but they have inconsistencies.
"They won the first four matches of the season, then lost convincingly to Connacht. Then they beat Leinster away from home and you thought, 'Oh, they're back on track. Then they lose to Ospreys, then have two good wins in Europe and lose to Munster. What's going on?
"Munster have some problems of their own and it looks like it is down to inconsistencies, rather than style of play. But if they are going to compete with the Leinsters of this world, that is where they need to get to. They are up there, or thereabouts, but if you want to beat Leinster, you've got to perform week-in, week-out."
For now, the United Rugby Championship is parked as both Munster and Ulster ready for Champions Cup pool stage round three games that will go a long way to deciding their fate in the knock-outs.
One suspects that both sets of fans would gladly take one of those ugly wins, this weekend.
WATCH HOUSE OF RUGBY URC HERE: