Munster unable to secure their Christmas bonus
Munster 24 Ulster 10:Ulster’s magnificent 11-match winning run in the RaboDirect Pro 12 came to an almost inevitable end at Thomond Park on Saturday evening when their understrength side were defeated by an unconvincing Munster performance.
Ulster needed to win to create a new winning record but they were always going to struggle in the difficult conditions with a depleted squad.
“We were well beaten. When we reflect in a day or two we’re still going to be happy with where we’re sitting, but we know a lot of teams, particularly at the top of the table, the likes of Munster and Ospreys, are really starting to get their game together,” said Ulster coach Mark Anscombe.
“We’re not fooled into thinking it’s all over. There are ten rounds to go, a lot of rugby to be played and anything can happen . . . ”
Closer and closer
The Ulster coach said he does not think captain Johann Muller will be back for their remaining Heineken Cup pool games against Glasgow Warriors and Castres, but he has not given up hope.
“Johann is getting closer and closer . . . I would say Castres at this stage is maybe going to be a week early. Really, as much as we want him, maybe rugby this side of the break is going to be a bit early.”
Munster coach Rob Penney said he was disappointed not to secure the bonus point a fourth try would have secured as Munster struggled to put the visitors away.
“I’m pretty optimistic about the way the group is travelling and I think we can head into the new year in a really positive place mentally,” said the Kiwi. “It is very pleasing but there’s still a lot of work to do.”
Munster led 10-3 at the break after a pummeling of the Ulster line led to a penalty try. Ian Keatley and Niall O’Connor had earlier swapped penalties.
Under the posts
Ulster scrumhalf Paul Marshall was binned for unnecessary use of the boot on Donncha O’Callaghan and Munster pushed clear after 45 minutes when Simon Zebo broke through a gap in the middle to score under the posts.
But while Peter O’Mahony put the game beyond Ulster’s reach after 50 minutes when he drove over with help from the superb Tommy O’Donnell, Munster were unable to grab a coveted fourth try.
Indeed Ulster finished strongly after emptying their bench with promising young scrumhalf Michael Heaney twice involved in sending Ali Birch over for a consolation try in the dying moments.