Munster finally get the big win their recent performances have promised with Crowley leading the way 

A last gasp Ben Healy try ensured that Munster emerged from Kingspan Stadium on New Year’s Day with a victory
Munster finally get the big win their recent performances have promised with Crowley leading the way 

Keith Earls of Munster during the United Rugby Championship between Ulster and Munster at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Ulster 14 

Munster 15 

A thrilling last gasp Ben Healy try ensured that Munster emerged from Kingspan Stadium on New Year’s Day with a victory over Ulster that could very well save their season.

The opening quarter of an hour was a cagey affair, with Ulster having slightly the better of it in terms of territory, and they finally got the scoreboard moving in the 16th minute when scrum half John Cooney slotted a 35m penalty after Munster outhalf Jack Crowley had been harshly penalised for being in the way of a clear out at a ruck, and just three minutes later it was impressive tight head Romain Salanoa being penalised, as Cooney doubled the score from practically the same blade of grass of the pitch.

The Munster discipline, or rather lack of it, was fast becoming an issue, as captain Jack O’Donoghue was the next player to be blown following his failure to retreat from an offside position as Keith Earls kicked over his head. 

Jack O'Donoghue of Munster is tackled by Billy Burns of Ulster during the United Rugby Championship between Ulster and Munster at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Jack O'Donoghue of Munster is tackled by Billy Burns of Ulster during the United Rugby Championship between Ulster and Munster at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

The penalty was inside Cooney’s range and he duly dispatched it in the 24th minute, to give Ulster a 9-0 lead, without them having to do very much to have earned it.

It took a whole half an hour for Munster to get inside Ulster’s 22, and when they got there they remained there for some time, battering away at the Ulster line, forcing penalty after penalty until referee Andrew Brace was forced to issue a yellow card to Ulster hooker Tom Stewart in the 35th minute for persistent infringements. 

Munster chipped away at Ulster, but never really looked like penetrating the frantic Ulster rearguard, with an approach that was eerily reminiscent of the Johann van Graan days with multiple one out carries, and eventually Ulster forced a penalty concession and cleared their lines, meaning Munster had a bit of a mountain to climb as they trailed 9-0 at the break.

Whatever Graham Rowntree said to his troops in the dressing room at half time it worked a treat, as Munster looked a different side at the start of the second half.

A glorious pass from Antoine Frisch released Gavin Coombes in midfield and while that initial attack was repelled some strong running from Frisch, Malakai Fekitoa and Kiran McDonald soon got Munster back within reach of the Ulster line, with them finally crossing in the 44th minute when scrum half Paddy Patterson brilliantly sniped down the blindside to score in the right corner.

Munster dominated the ball for the majority of the next twenty minutes but couldn’t make it count, and when Ulster got one chance they were ruthless. In the 68th minute the Munster defence got caught far too narrow and a huge 30 yard pass from Stuart McCloskey put speedster Robert Baloucoune away in acres of space and he was able to win the foot race to the right corner to score.

Lively Munster replacement Ben Healy slotted a penalty in the 73rd minute to get his team back within six points and then after a simply sublime break from Jack Crowley Munster got their chance to win it. 

Ulster’s Stuart McCloskey and Jack Crowley of Munster
Ulster’s Stuart McCloskey and Jack Crowley of Munster

Munster camped on the Ulster line for four minutes, and just when it looked like they were going to be denied it was that man Healy who crashed over with the final play of the game, and he stepped up to slot the conversion to steal victory from the jaws of defeat for Munster.

Scorers for Ulster: Cooney (3 pens), Baloucoune (1 try) 

Munster: Healy (1 try, 1 pen, 1 con), Patterson (1 try) 

Ulster: S Moore; Baloucoune, Hume, McCloskey, Stockdale; Burns, Cooney; Sutherland, Stewart, M Moore; Treadwell, Henderson (capt); Jones, Reffell, Vermeulen.

Subs: Milasinovich for M Moore (30), Andrew for S Moore (35), S Moore for Andrew (45), Doak and Carter for Cooney and Treadwell (63), O’Sullivan and Murphy for Sutherland and Jones (65), Flannery for Burns (73), Andrew and McIlroy for Stewart and Stockdale (77).

Munster: Haley; Daly, Frisch, Fekitoa, Earls; Crowley, Patterson; Kilcoyne, Scannell, Salanoa; Kleyn, McDonald; O'Donoghue (capt), Kendellen, Coombes.

Subs: Wycherley for Kilcoyne (38), Kilcoyne for Wycherley (40), Healy for Fekitoa (53), Murray for Patterson (56), Campbell for Earls (63), Wycherley for Kilcoyne (65), Buckley and Archer for Scannell and Salanoa (69).

Referee: Andy Brace (IRFU)

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