Ulster 15 Munster 10
ULSTER beat Munster in the battle of the Pro14 Conference leaders on Saturday evening at Kingspan Stadium to take a big step towards qualifying for the Pro14 final in March.
Both sides kicked off with 100% records in the league, but the win was always going to be of more importance to the home side given they are in a straight arm wrestle with Leinster for the top spot in Conference A. That is why Ulster head coach Dan McFarland picked the strongest side available to him, whereas his Munster counterpart Johann van Graan went with a largely second-string selection.
Ulster scored the first try of the game in the 7th minute when they scored a try off first phase possession, which will be particularly annoying to the Munster defensive coach. The move came off a lineout, and the key was a sumptuous pass by outside centre James Hume to put full-back Jacob Stockdale outside of Liam Coombes, and the Irish international was able to put his right winger Matt Faddes away in the corner.
Munster answered almost immediately with a 13th-minute penalty from the returning outhalf Ben Healy, from straight in front of the posts, after some big carries by the Munster pack, but in the 17th minute, Ulster struck again with an excellent try.
Ulster had obtained possession after Munster conceded a free kick at scrum time and after a number of phases, Ulster’s newly capped outhalf Billy Burns lofted a delightful chip into the grateful arms of the onrushing left-wing Ethan McIlroy to give him the simple task of catching and falling to earth to score.
Ulster scrum-half John Cooney then added a penalty in the 29th minute after Chris Cloete was adjudged to be guilty of not rolling away, and Munster were staring at a 15-3 deficit at half time.
Ulster second row Kieran Treadwell thought he had scored his side’s third try in the 58th minute but he knocked on in the act of placing the ball on the whitewash, as the home side piled on the pressure.
A minute later Munster captain Billy Holland was sin-binned, as referee Mike Adamson from Scotland lost patience with Munster’s lack of discipline, although Ulster struggled to punish Munster on the scoreboard with openside Cloete winning back possession with a wonderful jackal on the deck when Ulster were confident of killing off their opponents.
Munster managed to win a few penalties of their own but Ben Healy was just wide with a penalty from range in the 64th minute as Munster looked to eat up some time while down to fourteen men.
Munster had an opportunity to get within range when they had an attacking lineout within five metres from the Ulster line but the referee adjudged that Stuart McCloskey disrupted the Munster maul legally and from the resultant turnover Munster’s final chance of stealing victory evaporated.
Munster were intent on leaving Belfast with at least a losing bonus point and 6ft 9” replacement second row Thomas Ahern was very close to burrowing over in the 78th minute, but an Ulster hand under the ball had prevented the touchdown.
Munster kept banging on the door for the final minutes, and after Ulster loosehead prop Callum Reid was sin-binned Munster went wide to the left and a beautiful offload from Nick McCarthy popped to fellow replacement Darren Sweetnam to crash over for the only score of the second half, thereby securing the losing bonus point, with Crowley adding the extras for his first Munster points.
Cooney (1 pen, 1 con), Faddes and McIlroy (1 try each).
Healy (1 pen), Crowley (1 con), Sweetnam (1 try).
Stockdale; Faddes, Hume, McCloskey, McIlroy; Burns, Cooney; O'Sullivan, Herring, Moore; Treadwell, Carter (c); Rea, McCann, Timoney.
Reid and Coetzee for O’Sullivan and Rea (50), O’Toole for Moore (53), Doak and O’Connor for Cooney and Carter (66), Madigan for Burns (73), McBurney for Herring (74), Moxham for Stockdale (78), O’Sullivan for Reid (80).
Daly; Nash, Goggin, R. Scannell, Coombes; Healy, Casey; O'Connor, N. Scannell, Ryan; Wycherley, Holland (c); O’Donoghue, Cloete, O’Sullivan.
Kilcoyne and Marshall for O’Connor and N. Scannell (53), O’Donnell for O’Sullivan (59), McCarthy and Crowley for Casey and Healy (67), Salanoa and Ahern for Ryan and Wycherley (68), O’Sullivan and Sweetnam for Cloete and Daly (70).
Mike Adamson (Sco).