Munster 18 Ulster 13
A LATE try from Cork’s Alex Kendellen secured a brilliant comeback victory for 14-man Munster against Ulster in a tense United Rugby Championship clash at Thomond Park on Saturday evening.
Munster received a blow just prior to kick-off when captain Peter O’Mahony was forced to cry off due to an injury picked up in the warm-up. He was replaced by Tadhg Beirne, who took on the captaincy role, and Kendellen was added to the bench, and things did not get much better when Ulster got off to a flying start through a try from hooker Rob Herring at the back of a rolling maul in the eighth minute.
And matters went from bad to worse in the 15th minute when the left-wing Simon Zebo was issued a straight red card when his shoulder connected directly with the head of Ulster full-back Michael Lowry in an attempted tackle. In an instance, Munster’s difficult-looking night became an impossible-looking one.
Ulster pinned Munster back deep in their own half for pretty much the entire opening 25 minutes, but Munster defended manfully and finally got their hands on the ball and broke out and camped on the Ulster line for a full five minutes, going close with a series of pick-and-go drives, but had to be content with only a 32nd-minute penalty from out-half Jack Crowley for their efforts.
Down a man, it looked like it could be an extremely comfortable evening for Ulster, but Munster’s young side had other ideas, and they marched their opponents straight back down the pitch and Bandon native Crowley was able to land another penalty in the 39th minute.
Unfortunately, just after the restart, Rory Scannell was immediately penalised for not rolling away at a ruck and replacement scrum-half Nathan Doak duly slotted the 30m kick to give Ulster a 10-6 halftime lead.
The second half resumed with Ulster back in control, with them dominating both possession and territory, but Munster kept them at bay, largely thanks to a brilliant Thomas Ahern steal from a 5m lineout in the 48th minute, as well as resilient defence throughout.
Munster were living off scraps, and when a Crowley knock-on led to an Ulster scrum, the Ulster scrum completely decimated the brand new Munster front row, and Doak was given the opportunity to kick the resultant penalty from 40m and he made no mistake, as he stretched the lead to 6-13.
Munster got it back to 14 v 14 in the 58th minute when Kieran Treadwell was yellow-carded for a tip tackle on Shane Daly, and almost immediately they took advantage. They went to the corner and although Ulster held up the initial drives from the Munster pack, Craig Casey was able to send a wonderful long floating pass to Mike Haley out on the right for the try on the hour mark.
Unfortunately, Crowley’s conversion attempt struck the post and Ulster still had a two-point lead as the game entered the final quarter.
Brilliantly led by the inspirational Beirne, with other excellent displays coming from Gavin Coombes, Craig Casey and Mike Haley, Munster were desperate to get decent field position, but a number of Munster handling errors and a Haley kick out on the full undermined their attacking intentions.
The full-back then made an incisive break down the left and Munster finally had the attacking platform they needed, and when Jack O’Donoghue pierced the Ulster cover in the 13 channel they found themselves on the Ulster line once more.
Coombes was held up just short, and when Josh Wycherley dived for the whitewash the ball somehow popped up into the grateful arms of replacement Alex Kendellen, and the young Cork back row gleefully dotted down to give Munster an unlikely lead.
Ben Healy added the extras for good measure and there was to be no way back for Ulster, and Munster saw out a brilliant and unlikely victory.