Tommy O’Donnell celebrates his second try. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Ryan Bailey reports from Thomond Park
QUESTIONS WERE ASKED of Munster this week, and by God, how they answered them here with a nine-try inter-pro pummelling of a sorry Ulster outfit, but Johann van Graan’s side will only discover where they truly stand in the coming weeks.
The hosts simply had far too much firepower for their northern visitors, who arrived depleted by injuries and were hit further when they lost both Iain Henderson and John Cooney during a rudderless first-half display.
Munster could only worry about themselves, though, and this was a much-needed injection of momentum and confidence after two poor showings on the road, as they dominated in every facet for a third Guinness Pro14 win of the season.
Tommy O’Donnell and Dan Goggin scored two tries apiece during a rampant opening 40 from the hosts, as the pack — led by the outstanding back row unit of Peter O’Mahony, O’Donnell and CJ Stander — bullied Ulster into submission.
It was a harsh reality check for Dan McFarland’s side who had enjoyed an unbeaten start to the campaign hitherto, but they were simply missing too many front-line players and it only served as another brutal reminder of just how brittle Ulster’s squad is.
Not that Munster cared a jot.
The southern province stormed into a 29-0 half-time advantage and were in no mood to take their foot off the pedal, as big performances from O’Donnell, Goggin, man of the match Joey Carbery and debutant Alby Mathewson were among the encouraging Saturday night takeaways.
Stiffer challenges lie ahead, starting with next week’s trip to the Aviva Stadium to face Leinster, but a clinical attacking performance, backed by more intensity and energy in defence, was exactly what van Graan and his coaching staff wanted.
Carbery’s 62nd-minute score was the highlight, as the out-half started and finished a move from inside Munster’s 22, snatching Alex Wootton’s offload back inside out of the air to slalom through the last line of Ulster’s porous defence and sprint home from 40 metres out.
Carbery streaks clear for his first Thomond Park try. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
With Joe Schmidt and Ireland kicking coach Richie Murphy among the 13,907 in attendance, this was another confident and assured display in the pivot position from Carbery, as he finished the game with 18 points, and received another standing ovation when he made way shortly after his virtuoso score.
If only Munster could play at home every week.
Even with a late reshuffle to the back three because of Mike Haley’s withdrawal, they settled seamlessly into the contest, setting an aggressive tone in the opening exchanges with this left side proving to be a particularly profitable avenue of attack.
Munster’s first foray into Ulster territory was foiled by an excellent piece of work over the ball by Darren Cave, but it was the centre’s block down of Goggin’s attempted grubber through which set the hosts on their way.
Andrew Conway, having switched to fullback to accommodate the promotion of Wootton, freed the Munster winger after springing to pouch the loose ball, and Wootton showed an electric turn of pace to beat Cooney and then the covering Peter Nelson to give Goggin a free run at the line for his second senior try.
If Cave was a touch unfortunate to see his charge down fall invitingly for Conway to exploit Ulster down their right channel, the Ulster centre won’t want to see his attempted tackle on the rampaging O’Donnell again, as Munster galloped into an eighth-minute 14-0 lead.
Mathewson provided quality service all evening and his flat pass saw O’Donnell run into, through and over Cave, before the flanker showed all his athleticism to streak clear of Cooney for the line.
From the touchline, Carbery struck the conversion attempt sweet and through and the 22-year-old extended the home side’s advantage shortly after from the 10-metre line, as O’Mahony — a demon at the breakdown all game — put pressure on the Ulster ball and forced the turnover penalty.
No repeat of last week, anyway.
Even when Ulster were allowed string a multi-phase passage of play together, Munster’s aggressive line speed and the trojan work of their forwards, including crunching hits from Dave Kilcoyne and Stephen Archer in midfield, forcefully shut the door on the visitors.
Alby Mathewson had an excellent game on debut. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
If the task facing McFarland’s depleted side wasn’t sizeable already, the loss of Henderson to a HIA shortly into the second quarter stripped a pack already without the likes of Rory Best, Marcell Coetzee and Jordi Murphy of more experience.
Anyway, Munster, for their part, took full advantage.
Ulster briefly rebuffed the first rolling maul of the evening, but the Munster pack were in no mood for messing around, and a huge shove from the resultant scrum allowed Carbery kick for the corner, and O’Donnell, supported by O’Mahony, powered his way over.
This was Munster at their ruthless and domineering best.
Mathewson was enjoying a fine first outing in red, not only supremely confident — as evidenced by an American football style throw-in as Munster looked to maintain their impetus — but his communication, quick and crisp service and spacial awareness were all standout features.
The All Black scrum-half went close to embellishing his debut with the fourth try of the evening, but having been stopped just short, was quickly back to his feet as Munster showed patience around the fringes to hammer Ulster into submission.
With the pack intent on making a real statement, the fit-again Billy Holland brought the hosts within striking distance, and quick ball allowed Mathewson spray it right for Carbery to send Goggin through for the bonus-point clinching score, and the centre’s second of an utterly dominant and clinical 40-minute display from Munster.
Ulster did, at least, come back out for the second period showing a semblance of fight and work-rate, and were suitably rewarded with the first score after the restart when a period of sustained pressure ended with Cave bursting through the would-be tackles of Keith Earls and Carbery.
Normal service soon resumed for the Limerick natives, however.
Munster were in rampant form. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
O’Mahony finished in this near corner after another delightful Carbery pass off his right and after van Graan unloaded his bench to give Kevin O’Byrne, James Cronin, Ciaran Parker and Ian Keatley a run-out, Munster tacked on scores six, seven, eight and nine.
Carbery streaked clear for his first Thomond Park try and then Sammy Arnold marked his introduction by getting on the end of Wootton’s kick through, as John Andrew was sent to the bin for hauling the Munster winger down in the build-up.
They weren’t finished there, either, as Earls got in on the act on his first appearance of the season to inflict further pain on Ulster, before Wootton crossed for the try his lively performance deserved.
A third home bonus-point win of the campaign, and a welcome return to winning ways, but the real task is now to produce this form on the road. No better place to start than in the capital.
Tries: Dan Goggin , Tommy O’Donnell , Peter O’Mahony, Joey Carbery, Sammy Arnold, Keith Earls, Alex Wootton.
Conversions: Joey Carbery [5 from 6], Ian Keatley [3 from 3].
Penalties: Joey Carbery [1 from 1]
Tries: Darren Cave
Conversions: Billy Burns [1 from 1]
MUNSTER: 15. Andrew Conway, 14. Keith Earls, 13. Dan Goggin, 12. Rory Scannell (Sammy Arnold 63′), 11. Alex Wootton, 10. Joey Carbery (Ian Keatley 65′), 9. Alby Mathewson (Duncan Williams 51′); 1. Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin 51′), 2. Niall Scannell (Kevin O’Byrne 63′), 3. Stephen Archer (Ciaran Parker 63′), 4. Tadhg Beirne, 5. Billy Holland (Jean Kleyn 58′), 6. Peter O’Mahony (capt), 7. Tommy O’Donnell (Arno Botha 63′) 8. CJ Stander.
ULSTER: 15. Peter Nelson (Michael Lowry 40′), 14. Craig Gilroy, 13. Darren Cave, 12. Angus Curtis, 11. Angus Kernohan, 10. Billy Burns (James Hume 65′), 9. John Cooney (Dave Shanahan 33′); 1. Andrew Warwick (Eric O’Sullivan 65′), 2. Adam McBurney (John Andrew 65′), 3. Ross Kane (Tom O’Toole 40′), 4. Alan O’Connor (capt), 5. Iain Henderson (Kieran Treadwell 19′), 6. Matthew Rea, 7. Nick Timoney, 8. Jean Deysel.
Referee: Dan Jones [WRU].
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