MUNSTER 21 ULSTER 20
Munster clung on to win a pulsating Irish derby at Thomond Park on Friday night as Ulster missed a golden opportunity to do a smash and grab job in Limerick.
Having led 12-0 after 20 minutes, Ulster trailed 21-12 on 54 minutes. But in the last minute of the game they looked to have won it when Nick Williams crossed for a try.
But outhalf, Ian Humphreys, who had already kicked five out of five penalties previously, remarkably missed what looked a regulation attempt for him – and Munster got off the hook.
Munster moved to the top of the Guinness PRO12 with the win, with Ulster’s losing bonus point taking them into second place, although Ospreys play on Saturday and can regain first place.
Both sides observed a moment’s silence following the passing of Ireland and Ulster legend, Jack Kyle and Munster past president, David McCormick.
There was only one side effectively in it during the opening quarter as Ulster opened aggressively, dominating in all facets and outhalf Ian Humphreys putting his side in the right areas of the field.
By the time 20 minutes had ticked down on the clock, Ulster were 12-0 ahead with Humphreys kicking penalties on the second, 10th, 12th and 20th minutes.
Munster got a little footing in the game after Suart Olding had put a kick out on the full after the ball had been passed back into the ‘22’.
Munster made some inroads and a penalty from outhalf Ian Keatley opened their account on 23 minutes.
But Ulster were to hit back again and a big scrum yielded a penalty, however they were unable to secure their own ball and after a penalty for some silly ness from Nick Williams, Munster broke away and Robin Copeland went in for an unconverted try to make it 12-8 at the interval.
The turnaround was complete - and deserved - after a good start to the second half by Munster, an attack sparked by a Copeland break eventually led to a try for scrumhalf Duncan Williams in the corner on 44 minutes. Keatley converted from the touchline and they were now leading 15-12.
Munster remained the dominant side in that third quarter and Keatley extended the lead to 21-12 with two penalties on 51 and 54 minutes and it could have been more before the hour mark had he not seen a beautfiul drop goal attempt just shave the left post.
Ulster turned to the bench and a minute of coming on backrow replacement Robbie Diack got his side on the front foot and they were pressing the home ‘22’ for the first time since midway through the first half.
The phases hit double figures but Munster’s defence held firm and ball was finally turned over.
Munster then launched an attack and although Keatley’s kick through appeared to be grounded by JJ Hanrahan, the video review showed the fullback had not been in control of the ball and it was a let-off for the visitors.
Ulster had another reprieve when Keatley saw a 67th minute come off the post.
Another rare second half attack saw Ulster into a strong position and when replacement prop Stephen Archer was sent to the sin-bin for illegal play at a lineout, Humphreys made if five from five with the resultant penalty to trail 21-15 with eight minutes to go.
Now in the ascendancy, Ulster went for the try, but the ball was not grounded as the forwards went in at the corner. It was another penalty for Ulster, however, and they put the drive on again with replacement Lewis Stevenson held up short. Williams then gathered and went over to score the try - awarded after consultation with the TMO.
Amazingly, what looked like a regulation conversion for Humphreys, the outhalf missed his first one of the night which left Munster 21-20 in front.
There was one last chance as Gilroy fielded the restart deep in his own half. Ulster kept possession for 17 phases and four minutes before a penalty concession allowed Munster to kick the ball dead.
Munster: JJ Hanrahan; G van den Heever, P Howard (Smith 28), Denis Hurley, R O’Mahony; I Keatley, D Williams; J Ryan, D Casey, BJ Botha; Donncha O’Callaghan (capt), B Holland; R Copeland, P Butler, CJ Stander
Replacements: K O’Byrne, D Kilcoyne (Ryan 50), S Archer (Botha 67), T O’Donnell (Copeland 50), S Dougall, N Cronin, A Smith, F Jones (Hanrahan 66), Botha (Butler 77)
Ulster: S Olding, L Ludik, D Cave, S McCloskey, C Gilroy, I Humphreys, P Marshall; C Black, R Best (capt), W Herbst; A O’Connor, F van der Merwe; R Wilson, S Reidy, N Williams.
Replacements: R Herring (Best 64), A Warwick (Black 60), D Fitzpatrick (Herbst 60), L Stevenson (O’Connor 60), R Diack (Reidy 60), M Heaney (Marshall 56), M Allen, P Nelson (Ludik 64).
Ref: I Davies