MUNSTER 22 ULSTER 20
Munster joined Leinster in the Guinness PRO12 play-offs with this home win over an Ulster side who will be kicking themselves once again for not turning opportunities into possession.
With Ospreys losing to Cardiff Blues, Ulster had the chance to move third and for long periods in this thrilling Irish derby at Thomond Park, Limerick, the visitors looked as though they would extend their unbeaten run to eight matches.
In the end Ulster were the masters of their own downfall and although they moved up to fourth place in the standings with the losing bonus point, they were waiting on the outcome of Scarlets game against Dragons to see if they would stay there after the end of the round 20 matches.
Ospreys’ defeat guaranteed Munster and Leinster their places in the play-offs, both Provinces needing one more win each to make those home ties.
Ulster made the ideal start with a try after four minutes.
From a penalty to touch, the lineout secured and the driving maul shunted Rory Best over for the score, outhalf Paddy Jackson converting.
Five minutes later Munser were level. Peter O’Mahony sold Charles Piutau the dummy, moved through to space, gave to winger Ketih Earls who returned to O’Mahony and late replacement scrumhalf, Angus Lloyd - loaned from Ulster earlier this season - forced his way in for a try.
The second late replacement, Ian Keatley converted to level matters up.
Ulster went through some good phases, inpressive with the offload, before Munster went offisde and Jackson made it 10-7 with the penalty on 13 minutes.
Jackson missed the opportunity on 20 minutes to increase the lead with a penalty attempt.
Ulster were still in control and a great break by Luke Marshall could have put Ruan Pienaar away for a potential try, but the centre just delayed the pass an extra second.
Another penalty to touch saw Ulster go for the driving maul again, but with Pienaar turning forward Munster held firm and turned the ball over.
Munster eventually did find some inroads into the Ulster half and four minutes from the break, having been second best for most of the half, they levelled again with a Keatley penalty after Ulster’s scrum collapsed.
Ulster started the second half well and thought they had scored when Jacob Stockdale was put through by Luke Marshall, but it was scratched off for a forward pass.
A lovely line by captain Andrew Trimble saw him charge on through a Simon Zebo tackle, but at the next set of phases Ulster got close, but just could not get over the line.
A penalty from Jackson did give Ulster a 13-10 lead after 52 minutes.
It took something special to liven up what had been an intense battle. Munster centre Fracis Sailli left Trimble, Jackson and replacement Stuart McCloskey flatfooted as he jinxed his way through and Earls finished off the move. Replacement Tyler Bleyendaal missed the conversion but the hosts had the lead 15-13 after 61 minutes.
Ulster hit back immediatey, McCloskey did some hard work in retaining possession and Marshall, who had been outstanding all afternoon, raced in for the try which Jackson converted to make the lead 20-15.
But Munster came back again and once they got a sniff they squeezed hard. The pack laid the platform and eventually replacemetn Dave O’Callaghan went over for the try which Bleyendaal converted to swing the lead the hosts way 22-20 with nine minutes to go.
Ulster got themselves in with a half chance of the drop goal, but Jackson’s effort was wide.