IT was another busy weekend of rugby action with Munster moving up to third place in the Guinness PRO12 table on the back of their bonus point win over struggling Zebre in the Guinness PRO12 in Parma.
On the local club front, Garryowen were the only Limerick side to record a win as Young Munster, Shannon and UL-Bohemian all tasted defeat.
1. Earls and Cronin return to boost Munster
THE return of both Keith Earls and James Cronin from injury in Munster’s bonus point win over Zebre provides the province with a timely boost ahead of next Saturday’s make-or-break European Champions Cup tie with Saracens at Allianz Park.
Both players came on as second half replacements in the Stadio XXV Aprile, with Earls making his first appearance for the season after undergoing knee surgery in the autumn. The two internationals will be hoping to see further game time in Munster’s ‘must-win’ European tie with Sarries this weekend.
2. Are Munster undercooked heading to Sarries?
MUNSTER head coach Anthony Foley would surely have wanted a more severe test for his side heading to Saracens this weekend than that which Zebre provided on Saturday. In the wake of their disappointing defeat to Connacht on New Year’s Day there were plenty of question marks over Munster’s well-being, but few, if any, were answered at the Stadio XXV Aprile.
Munster made a blistering start in Parma against their struggling rivals and had a bonus point in the bag just after half-time. With the five points in safe-keeping, Munster’s performance dipped over the closing half an hour. A similar dip in performance level is likely to be fatal to their hopes next weekend.
3. Saracens suffer last gasp defeat
MUNSTER’S European Champions Cup opponents Saracens head into their round five Pool 1 fixtures next weekend on the back of a frustrating 24-23 defeat to Gloucester at Kingsholm.
James Hook’s 80th minute long-range penalty clinched victory from the jaws of defeat for the Cherry and Whites, leaving Sarries lying in third place in the Aviva Premiership table, but now nine points off leaders Northampton Saints. Saracens full-back Ben Ransom insisted they would mull over the defeat for long, but it is one that is bound to hurt.
Ransom said: “With Munster coming up our attention is switched onto a huge game next week. We won’t dwell on tonight, it’s very disappointing but with a massive clash next Saturday coming up, we’re just looking ahead now.”
4. Young Munster top four hopes dented
FOR the second successive weekend, Young Munster suffered a frustrating one-point defeat in Division 1A of the All-Ireland League, denting their hopes of making the top four play-off.
The Greenfields side coughed up a couple of soft tries in their disappointing 22-21 defeat to high-flying Terenure College at Clifford Park.
Seventh-placed Munsters’ are now six points off the play-offs with a third of the season to run. And it is also worth noting that John Staunton’s side is just six points above the relegation zone. Division 1A breaks now until January 31.
5. Garryowen maintain their promotion push
GARRYOWEN jumped up to second place in the All-Ireland League Division 1B table with an impressive 39-10 bonus point win away to Corinthians. The Dooradoyle side is now just one point behind 1B leaders Galwegians.
There was disappointment for both UL-Bohemian and Shannon, however, in Division 1B.
Eighth placed Shannon lie just above the relegation zone after suffering a 25-7 defeat away to Buccaneers. Meanwhile, UL-Bohemian remain in the relegation zone after going down on an 18-15 scoreline to Galwegians on the back pitch at Thomond Park. While UL-Bohs are ninth in the table, the Red, Red Robins are just two points off safety.