THIS win over Ulster was possibly the most important victory for Munster in the last decade.
With not only their season hanging by a thread, but also their very existence in the European Champions Cup depending on them finishing in the top eight, Munster somehow managed to squeeze out a victory against an Ulster side that will be still be kicking themselves this morning.
It might have taken the last play of the game for Graham Rowntree’s players to gain control of the score board however, when your backs are to the wall, and there is so much at stake it doesn’t really matter who, when, where or how you win the game.
All that matters is that you just win the bloody thing!
With many of Rowntree’s first choice internationals not available because of game time restrictions imposed upon him by national team protocols, Rowntree found himself digging very deep into his squad to field a team that could challenge this strong Ulster side and, somehow these so called lesser experienced players found a way to win.
Very much a game of two halves, Ulster dominated the first forty and really should have entered the half time dressing room with more than their nine points advantage, which all came from the deadly accurate boot of scrum half John Cooney.
Apart from one excursion into the Ulster twenty-two as the first half was drawing to an end, Munster never even looked like scoring as their hosts dominated possession and territory.
A faltering line-out, poor discipline and some very disadvantageous kicking from the hand gave the Ulster men all the ammunition they needed to assume control of the game and whilst you would be easily forgiven for thinking the result was going to be a forgone conclusion, Ulster sat back on their lead and just waited for things to happen.
Playing away from home is never easy and playing in Belfast certainly adds spice to any Munster Vs Ulster tie.
The enmity that endures between these two sides is not as fearsome as it once was however, their sixteenth man can at times be very intimidating and when Stand Up For The Ulster Men is being bellowed out with vigour, it unquestionably effects both sides.
With the Kingspan stadium packed to the rafters and with an easy nine point lead on the score board, I think the home supporters and all those in the Ulster coaching ticket just assumed that their players dominance would continue in the second half however, just across the corridor in the away dressing room the Munster players were having their ears reddened by Rowntree and I believe there were some ultimatums laid down.
Pressure has a way of effecting people in many different ways and even though Rowntree is only half way through his first season as Munster’s head gaffer, it’s as clear as day and night that he is feeling the entire weight of all those who support Munster on his shoulders.
His reaction at the sounding of the full time whistle clearly depicted this because it looked as if they had just won the European Cup and not beaten Ulster by one point.
I am led to believe that his half time chat during this game was direct and there was no happy new year’s resonance associated with it; and thankfully it worked because the side that took to the field for the second half bared no resemblance to the one that started the game.
As soon as Munster got their hands on the ball they started to play with purpose and they actually looked like they had a plan.
Quicker delivery from hooker Niall Scannell gave Ulster no time to organise their aerial defence which fixed the Munster line-outs.
Faster positioning of the ball and better rucking techniques afforded Paddy Patterson easier access which in turn gave Jack Crowley and the Munster backs a little more breathing space and most inversely of all was the attitude of the players.
They truly looked as if playing for Munster meant something to them.
The absence of Joey Carberry afforded Crowley the number ten jersey for this game and were it not for his line break with only seconds remaining on the match day clock, Munster would have suffered their seventh defeat in the URC and their chances of playing in the European Cup for next season would be looking very bleak.
Throughout the game Crowley was solid, but when something special was required he stood front and centre and produced the goods, something Carberry has failed to do ever since he arrived to the province.
Once again full back Mike Haley was magnificent in all he contributed and Antoine Frisch took another step closer to becoming a first choice selection.
As it turned out this was a game that Munster had no right to win however, because of Ulster’s laziness and their inability to hammer home their territorial advantage they became victims of a team who took a half time pummelling by their coach and did something about it.
Munster are still miles off where they need to be and their birth in next season's European Champions Cup is far from secured albeit, if they had lost this one their journey ahead was going to be the bleakest they would have ever encountered and I don’t know if they would have reached their final destination.