Ulster are in good nick for Europe

Andrew Trimble tries to break through the Munster defence
Andrew Trimble tries to break through the Munster defence

Ulster found their mojo once again as they put RaboDirect PRO12 leaders, Munster, to the sword 29-19 after a pulsating Irish derby clash in front of a pack Ravenhill crowd.

Inflicting only the second defeat of the current Rabo campaign on Munster this season, Ulster halted the runaway leaders.

In doing so they finished the small block of PRO12 fixtures at this stage of the season with two wins from three, sitting in fourth place and knowing exactly what they need to do if they are to make the play-offs for a second successive season.

Ulster head coach, Mark Anscombe, had reason to smile after the win over Munster.

The victory had come on the back of an unconvincing home win against Zebre and a massively disappointing display in Dublin against reigning league champions Leinster a week ago.

Anscombe, nor the players, did not hide from the fact that a week earlier at the RDS they had failed to front up.

He had expected a reaction against Munster, which he got eventually.

Ulster had raced into a 20-0 lead at one stage after tries from Jared Payne and Darren Cave, plus two conversions and two penalties from Rabo man of the match, Ruan Pienaar.

But Munster showed their character - something which has proved crucial to them on both the domestic and European fronts this season already - and were knocking on the door at 23-19 going into the closing stages.

Pienaar’s boot proved crucial in the end, adding another two penalties for a return of 19 points and seven kicks from eight attempts.

Munster kicker and outhalf, Ian Keatley, kicked two from eight.

It has been somewhat of a surprise to see Pienaar step up to take the first penalty awarded to Ulster - in the third minute - as young Irish outhalf Paddy Jackson had been responsible for place kicking duties, on the whole this season.

Anscombe explained they had taken a decision based on the fact Pienaar could land kicks from 55m plus.

“We spoke to Paddy about it, explained our reasons.

“Ruan can land those long kicks - as you saw tonight - but he needs to have some rhythm and taking all the kicks gives him that and then the confidence to land the big ones.”

In terms of the response from the players after last week’s disappointment in Dublin, Anscombe said there were days when things just did not go the way you had hoped.

“The quality of the guys, the beauty of playing at home and a few new guys bouncing back adds a bit of confidence to the group,” he said.

“I know Munster had a couple of guys out but that was a pretty formidable forward pack and I thought the way we played, particularly in that first half, to get up to 20-0 was pretty impressive.”

Looking ahead to Europe, Anscombe said it was a crucial two weeks and it was important to go into them with some confidence.

“This result will give us that, but the important thing is we are in control of our destiny in Europe. We are not having to rely on any other results going our way.

“We had some guys coming back from injury tonight and there are hopes Johann (Muller) and Rory (Best) will be in the mix next week.

“We are in a fairly healthy position,” he added.