PRO12 BIG WEEKEND Comes To Thomond Park
12th April 2017 By The Editor
The fifth Guinness PRO12 ‘Big Weekend’ will be packed with action and tribal rivalries as the Championship enters the final laps of the season. Interprovincial Derbies are the order of the day in Ireland with Munster playing host to Ulster at Thomond Park on Saturday at 3pm.
In what is arguably the pick of round 20, the northern province will travel to Limerick looking to reassert their position as a contender for the knock out stages. Munster are in second place after their hard-fought win over Glasgow Warriors in Cork on Saturday and know that victory against their northern counterparts would put them within touching distance of a home semi-final – their first since 2015 – with Treviso and Connacht still to come.
Ulster slipped up at home to Cardiff Blues in Round 19, drawing 24-24, but are vying with Scarlets and Ospreys to finish in the top four and compete in the play-offs for the fifth consecutive time. Things don’t get any easier for Less Kiss’ men after their trip to Thomond Park, who then face a trip to Ospreys before hosting Leinster in Round 22.
Title aspirations aside, Ulster won’t need to look far in search of motivation. Expect the Ulstermen’s desire to avenge three straight defeats to the men in red to accentuate the bite that already goes hand-in-hand with this home-grown derby. What’s more, Rory Scannell’s winning drop-goal last time out saw Munster go three matches without defeat in Belfast for the first time since the Second World War.
In keeping with the sides’ recent history, expect this game to be played on a knife edge. Across their last six encounters no less than a penalty has separated the sides, Munster taking the spoils four times, Ulster once, with a 23-all draw played out in 2015 at the Kingspan.
Of late, Munster’s only defeat in any tournament since mid-December was 21-30 at home to Scarlets at the end of February, the province’s one and only loss at Thomond Park in their last 14 matches since December 2015.
Munster have won their last three matches against fellow Irish provinces since tripping up to Leinster at the Aviva Stadium in October, but Ulster also carry strong momentum into the BIG WEEKEND showdown. The northerners are unbeaten in their last seven Guinness PRO12 matches.
Reflecting on another tight win on Saturday, and in looking ahead to this weekend’s showdown in Limerick, Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus commented, “We lost our Champions Cup game over in Leicester because of a last minute penalty for example, so we are used to tight endings, some go for you and some against. But without sounding disrespectful to Glasgow, we had chances where we really should have put that game away. We had five or six opportunities to do that and the one opportunity they got, the class team that they are, they pounced on it and that put us under pressure and we had to defend like hell for the last four or five minutes. It was nerve-wracking.
“Ulster will be desperate for the win and a desperate team is a dangerous team. Glasgow were the same last weekend and you could see it and feel it in the amount of tackles that we had to make and the physicality of them. Ulster will be in a similar mind-set.
“We know we have a lot of work to do to guarantee a semi final spot. Ulster have a very tough run-in but know that if they take three wins in the final three rounds they will sit pretty in the PRO12. They will aim for nothing less.”
With their respective fates firmly in their own hands, this promises to be a monumental battle between the Irish provinces.
Munster v Ulster, Guinness PRO12 round 20, Saturday April 15 at Thomond Park, ko 3pm.
Referee: Marcus Mitrea (FIR, 65th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Emanuele Tomo (FIR), John Carvill (IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: Eddie Wigglesworth (IRFU)
TMO: Stefano Penne (FIR)
Tickets can be purchased online here, from the Munster Rugby Ticket Offices at Thomond Park and Irish Independent Park, or by calling 061 421103.