ULSTER 23 MUNSTER 23
A touchline conversion by Paddy Jackson earned 14-man Ulster a share of the spoils after a pulsating Irish derby Guinness PRO12 clash in Belfast on Saturday afternoon.
Minutes after Ulster’s Iain Henderson was red carded for a dangerous tackle and Keith Earls’ unconverted try had given Munster a 23-16 lead, Ulster fired one last shot.
Replacement Paul Marshall scampered over for a try as the clock went red and it was left to Irish outhalf Jackson to salvage the draw - he slotted it coolly over.
The draw left Ulster in fourth place in the standings,still a point behind Munster.
It was an early flurry from Munster, although they lost openside loose Tommy O’Donnell with a leg injury after just three minutes, giving the promising young Jack O’Donoghue an earleir than expected start.
Ulster then went offside at a maul and outhalf Ian Keatley gave the visitors a 3-0 lead after five minutes
Ulster upped the pace a little and enjoyed a spell of good pressure with opportunities coming for Payne and bowe but poor handling, passing or good herding by the Munster defence kept the hosts at bay - and crucially Munster’s discipline held as well.
From another Ulster attack ball was dropped and Keith Earls gathered and kicked ahead. The winger then turned the pace on from his own 10m line, breezed past Ulster captain Rory Best ,m put another kick on the ball and scrambled past Iain Henderson only to see the ball bounce away from his hands.
The Munster defence was perfectly set as Ulster enjoyed another purple patch, l;eft, right of straght the Ulster attack met with stern red resistance.
A penalty against Wiehahn Herbst at a scrum gave Munster some respite at the same time as winger Simon Zebo was replaced by Ronan O’Mahony.
A second scrum penalty - this time against Callum Black - on 30 minutes offered Keatley the chance to double the lead and he nailed the kick confidently from just outside the Ulster 10m line.
Ulster’s growing frustration led to Henderson going offside just inside his own 10m line and Keatley chipped over his third penalty for a 9-0 lead with three minutes lett in the half.
Ulster responded immediately, carried ball on from the restart and then drove Munster off the scrum, forcing a penalty and with Ruan Pienaar’s ankle still not perhaps 100 per cent after treatment during the week, outhalf Jackson getting Ulster’s account open a minute from the break.
Then from absolutely nothing, Ulster scored the opening try. Best won the knock down from the restart, Payne broke and fed Bowe and he rounded Felix Jones to go in for a try. Jackson’s conversion sent Ulster in leading 10-9.
Ulster came out for the second half fired up. Centre Darren Cave made a big breakthrough, but it was snuffed out. A free-kick award at a Munster scrum saw Ulster take the scrum option and a penalty arrived for obstruction and Jackson made it three from three with the boot and a 13-9 lead five minutes into the second half.
Munster introduced BJ Botha to the front row on 48 minutes - John Ryan had come on after the break on the other side of the scrum.
The momentum began to swing Munster’s way and they made small but significant inroads to the Ulster half. With the line closer, the intensity was upped. Paul O’Connell’s initial drive halted as was Botha’s charge, but Ulster were pinged for not relasing in the tackle and the easy kick for Keatley in front of the posts reduced the Ulster lead to a point at 13-12 after 53 minutes.
Munster now had a slight edge at the scrum and when they brought their first dirving maul of the day to the table, it was impressive. The next Ulster scrum was demolished by the red surge and although the Munster put in was initally held, the penalty was conceded and Keatley’s fifth kick of the afternoon, nudged them ahead 15-13 on the hour mark. Ulster had already pulled Hebst off for Bronson Ross in the front and now andy Warwick was despatched to stem the tide at the set piece.
Keatley and Jackson exchanged penalties, keeping Munster’s two-point advantage going into the final 10 minutes.
A huge break from Bowe saw Ulster press in the corner and Tuohy spurned a penalty advantage with a silly grubber kick. However, play was stopped for a video review of an incident at the ruck following Bowe’s break and Iain Henderson was deemed to have led with a forearm at the ruck when he tackled Ronan O’Mahony and it was a straight red from referee Nigel Owens on 73 minutes.
Munster turned the screw, at they do, and Keith Earls was romping in for a try minutes later, Keatley missing his first kick of the afternoon leaving Ulster in losing bonus point territory.
There was to be one last throw of the dice as a lineout following a penalty award saw Uldter deep in the Munster ‘22’.
With the clock red, Ulster pressed and got the ball out to replacement Paul Marshall on the wing for the try.
It all came down to touchline conversion to salvage a point and keep the home semi-final dream alive - young Jackson nailed it ever so sweetly.
Ulster: L Ludik; T Bowe, J Payne, D Cave, P Nelson; P Jackson, R Pienaar; C Black, R Best (capt), W Herbst, D Tuohy, F van der Merwe, I Henderson, C Henry, R Wilson.
Replacements: R Herring, A Warwick (Black 61), B Ross (Herbst 51), R Diack (Wilson 29), C Ross, P Marshal (, I Humphreys, S McCloskey (Cave 55).
Munster: F Jones; K Earls, A Smith, Denis Hurley, S Zebo; I Keatley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, E Guinazu, S Archer; D Ryan, P O’Connell; P O’Mahony (capt),T O’Donnell, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Duncan Casey, John Ryan (Kilcoyne 41), BJ Botha (Archer 48), Billy Holland, Jack O’Donoghue (O’Donnell) 3), Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Ronan O’Mahony (Zebo 27).
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU).
attendance: 17, 179