MUNSTER 32 ULSTER 28
Munster outscored Ulster by five tries to four to win a gripping Guinness PRO12 derby clash 32-28 at Thomond Park.
Simon Zebo’s 39th try in 87 provincial appearances proved to be the match-winning score for Anthony Foley’s men, although Dan Tuohy’s 68th-minute effort set up a hugely tense finish and ultimately earned Ulster two bonus points.
A topsy-turvy first half ended 19-18 in Munster’s favour, with Andrew Conway, Robin Copeland and Gerhard van den Heever touching down for the hosts and Ulster’s tries coming from Craig Gilroy (2) and Nick Williams.
Back-to-back tries from Denis Hurley and Zebo, just past the hour mark, gave Munster crucial breathing space at 32-21. The visitors ended the match on the attack, but Stuart McCloskey was eventually bundled into touch to signal full-time.
The Ulstermen stunned the home crowd with a try inside three minutes, McCloskey dislodging the ball from Francis Saili’s grasp and Darren Cave was well placed to feed Gilroy who raced over halfway to score near the right corner.
Paddy Jackson’s conversion attempt was pulled wide by the swirling wind and after a listless spell, Munster responded on the quarter hour mark.
Tomas O’Leary’s half-break took the hosts into the Ulster 22, James Cronin provided good support and Conway’s well-timed run saw him finish off his third try in as many games.
Ian Keatley’s crisp conversion was cancelled out by a Jackson penalty, and the visitors really lifted the tempo for their second five-pointer of the night. Backs and forwards combined with Jackson’s flat pass sending Williams powering through into the 22. Wiehahn Herbst then drove up close before Paul Marshall gave Gilroy a simple finish out wide. The difficult conversion was missed by Jackson.
Now leading 13-7, Ulster’s good work was undone when lovely footwork and hands from Zebo opened up the white-shirted defence on their 22 metre line again, with Keatley following up with the scoring pass to send number 8 Copeland through for a converted try.
The momentum was suddenly with Munster as lightning quick winger van den Heever beat an initial tackle and outpaced Andrew Trimble on the outside to make it 19-13. Keatley missed the conversion and Jackson did likewise late on, hitting the right hand post after big number 8 Williams scored from a lineout maul for the second week running.
Into the second period, the one point gap remained as Jackson landed a peach of a drop goal and Keatley answered back from a central penalty.
Munster captain CJ Stander grew in influence with a powerful rip in the tackle and some key interventions at the breakdown.
They built enough pressure to force a fourth try as Keatley’s steepling cross-field kick was knocked backwards by Conway for centre Hurley to dot down, with TMO Alan Rogan confirming the score.
Passes from Keatley and van den Heever then put Zebo over in the 64th minute, albeit that the Munster out-half missed both conversions.
Neil Doak’s charges stayed in the hunt with a well-worked try from replacement Tuohy, as Gilroy and McCloskey continued to prove difficult to haul down.
Jackson impressively added the extras from the left touchline.
However, Munster prevailed thanks to some dogged defending, surviving the added drama provided by their own premature kick to touch with seconds still left on the clock.