Where: Kingspan Stadium, Belfast
When: Friday, November 10
Munster grabbed a last-gasp victory over Ulster the last time the two teams met at this venue. The 15-14 win was sparked by Ben Healy, with Munster’s No. 10 converting his own late try to seal a late away win during the Christmas period last season.
This is an Irish derby that dates back to the beginning of the game in Ireland in the late 19th Century. Ulster has led the head-to-head since 1946, winning 54 games to the 40 won by Munster (with 10 draws). They have played at least once a year since 1946, with big games in the Celtic League, URC, and the Heineken Cup sparking more heat in the rivalry over the last few decades.
It is worth noting that Munster has only won 15 times away at Ulster since ’46, with the home team winning 36 times and there being 4 draws. That has changed a little of late, with Munster winning two of the last three at Ravenhill and four of the last six at all venues.
The home side will be boosted by getting their World Cup stars available following their exploits in Paris. New Zealand knocked the Irish out in the quarter-finals in a classic, and Ulster should welcome back some combination of Iain Henderson, Rob Herring, and Stuart McCloskey for this Irish derby. This is a timely arrival for this crew, with James Hume, James French, and Reuben Crothers all expected to miss time following Ulster’s 22-20 defeat by Connacht last time out.
Munster is unbeaten after three matches and sits in second on the log behind surprising Connacht. One of those results was a draw, with a depleted Munster side a little lucky to get back from Italy unscathed with a 13-13 result against Treviso.
In squad news, several internationals rejoined the squad after working in Paris. Jack Crowley and Craig Casey played last weekend, while players like Tadhg Beirne, Conor Murray, and Peter O’Mahony are now back and working their way towards selection. Simon Zebo is also back in contention after a foot injury, but South African lock RG Snyman picked up a chest/shoulder injury in the World Cup final that requires surgery.
There is a feeling that Ulster has been targeting this game since the beginning of the season. The team made 11 changes to face Connacht from their Week 2 fixture against the Bulls, and just as many changes are expected here to get Ulster back to something like their first-choice squad.
Ulster will be looking to use their ever-effective maul to cause Munster problems. This means the visitors must be accurate with their play, as giving away penalties will give Ulster a platform to attack. Expect a game with international-level intensity around the breakdown, with both coaches knowing that winning the contest on the floor will go a long way towards deciding the outcome.
The Friday night kickoff is significant, with a huge crowd expected at the Kingspan to welcome the defending URC champions. I think that will be just about enough to push Ulster over the top here, so I would take the hosts to win in a game that will be tight all the way through to the final whistle.