2023 Ulster Rugby vs Munster Rugby

Dramatic Munster Win Has Major Ramifications For URC Table

Dramatic Munster Win Has Major Ramifications For URC Table

An absorbing and pulsating double round of festive-season Vodacom URC matches ended on New Year's Day with two Irish derbies that both made big statements.

Jan 2, 2023 by RugbyPass
Dramatic Munster Win Has Major Ramifications For URC Table

An absorbing and pulsating double round of festive-season Vodacom United Rugby Championship matches ended on New Year's Day with two Irish derbies that both made big statements about what to expect in the second half of the competition.

While Leinster rounded off the New Year's weekend with a comprehensive home win over Connacht that was entirely expected, Munster again confirmed its resurgence under Graham Rowntree's coaching with a dramatic last gasp win over Ulster at the Kingspan, thus avenging the defeat they suffered to Ulster at home at Thomond Park earlier in the season.

Ulster led for most of the way via three first-half penalties from John Cooney and seemingly had the match wrapped up when Rob Baloucoune went over for a try that put daylight between them and Munster on the scoreboard with just 10 minutes remaining. 

But the visitors dug deep and produced the goods in the last minutes, with a Ben Healy penalty narrowing the gap to within seven points with five minutes remaining.

Many thought the visitors would be happy to take the losing bonus point from the fixture, but that reckoned without the determination that has been built up in the Munster team over the last few weeks. It was exemplified in the tenacity the team showed in a recent away win over the Northampton Saints in the Champions Cup.

Munster wasn't finished, and after Jack Crowley produced a moment of magic to wriggle away from a host of tacklers and get into the Ulster 22, Healy sniped over from a tap penalty to send the away fans into raptures, as Munster sealed the win.

For neutrals, it would have been the impact on the overall log that would have had the most impact. 

While the win takes Munster to ninth, just outside the top 8 and playoff qualification, with most teams having seven games to play, the Ulster defeat has interesting ramifications for what previously was a tight top 4 that looked like it was running away from the rest of the field.

With the DHL Stormers having completed their two derby matches played over the Christmas and New Year's week with full points, and third-placed Ulster only managing five from their games against Connacht and Munster, the gap between the Stormers in second and Ulster in third place is eight points. 

That is same number of points Leinster leads the log by, but the Stormers do have a game in hand.

So, what the festive season games have delivered is a starkly changed outlook when it comes to the log position. Before the Christmas derbies, it was a four-horse race at the top, with the rest lagging. The middle-of-the-log teams have caught up with the fourth-place Bulls, while the top 2 have opened a considerable gap on third and fourth.

You also need to factor in that the Stormers, who now lead the Bulls by 10 in the South African conference and the battle for the Shield, also have a game in hand on their rivals from Pretoria. 

So, there's every reason to believe it is the reigning champions who start 2023 in the pound seats locally and now are the clear favorites to retain their SA Shield trophy, though it would be a brave man who bets against Leinster ultimately reasserting the hegemony it enjoyed when the URC still was the PRO14.

The Cell C Sharks now are the team that looks more likely to challenge the Stormers for the Shield, as they joined their coastal rivals in picking up a full house of 10 points from their two festive-week matches. 

Ironically, if you look at the scores of the four matches played in South Africa since two days before Christmas, the Stormers and the Sharks did things that were remarkably similar.

The telling games for the two teams could be their derby meetings in February and March, but unfortunately, both games likely are to be without their Springboks, who will be resting in that period. That probably favors the Stormers more than it does the Durbanites, who are a very different team when they have their top Boks playing.

The Sharks have lifted themselves to fifth on the log and have fully recovered from the nightmare of their 35-0 defeat to Cardiff in November, but the other South African team, the Emirates Lions, has dropped out of the top 8 after two losses. They now are 11th.

It still is all to play for, though, for most teams with Champions Cup qualification and playoff aspirations, as there are just nine log points separating the fifth-place Sharks from the 13th-place Connacht.

There was movement in both the Scotland/Italy and Welsh Shields over the festive week, with the Glasgow Warriors having lifted themselves to the top of the Scotland conference after two wins in their home and away 1872 derbies against Edinburgh. That was after they'd started the festive week games behind Edinburgh.

Glasgow is joined at the top of the Shield log by Benetton, which won its two Italian derbies against Zebre Parma, with the two teams level on 29 points and currently occupying sixth and seventh, respectively, on the overall log. 

It is important to note that Glasgow, which hosts the Stormers in an important home game at Scotstoun on Sunday, has a game in hand on Benetton, and indeed on Edinburgh, which is four points, and five positions, behind them.

Cardiff still is on top for the Welsh Shield, but the gap has been closed quite significantly by Ospreys, which confirmed the apparent turning of the corner signified by a Champions Cup win over Montpellier, with two good derby wins in the URC over the festive period.

Their tight 22-19 away win over Cardiff was important, as it ensured the Swansea-based team still has plenty to play for, something that wasn't likely to be the case had they lost. Then, Cardiff would have had a 12-point lead on its rivals.

Weekend Vodacom United Rugby Championship Results

Edinburgh 25 Glasgow Warriors 32
Zebre 17 Benetton 40
Cell C Sharks 47 Vodacom Bulls 20
DHL Stormers 40 Emirates Lions 8
Cardiff Rugby 19 Ospreys 22
Scarlets 33 Dragons 17
Ulster 14 Munster 15
Leinster 41 Connacht 12