Ulster 36 Munster 17
There’s life aplenty in Ulster’s season yet, albeit they’ll await the outcome of the Stormers-Edinburgh quarter-final before they can start making travel arrangements for next week’s semi-final, after this almost effortless filleting of a woeful Munster.
The attendance for a fixture which was not covered by season tickets hardly reflected the game’s importance but the estimated 12,000 cared and were royally entertained. This URC quarter-final was over long before the end. In truth, it never, ever really looked in doubt.
An altogether slicker and more accurate Ulster conjured a couple of first-phase tries through their vastly superior launch plays and back play which were simply beyond Munster’s remit.
A lamentable Munster performance, riddled with handling inaccuracies and ill-discipline as well as a defence which again bunched up narrowly too often, ended their uneven and anticlimactic season and also the Johann van Graan/Stephen Larkham/JP Ferreira era.
Lurching from one style to another, and from the Exeter and Toulouse performances to the last two, is hard to credit. On this truly sad evidence, training standards need serious improvement. There have been good performances and there is talent, but the Graham Rowntree reboot, with input from Mike Prendergast and Denis Leamy, looks even timelier now.
In the meantime, Munster must hope Glasgow don’t win the URC, or else they won’t even qualify for next season’s Champions Cup.
That Peter O’Mahony, of all people, should drop the kick-off rather set the tone for Munster’s ragged performance. Mike Haley had a clearance charged down by the outstanding James Hume after taking a high pass from Andrew Conway and soon the knock-ons began mounting.
Meantime, Billy Burns punished Fineen Wycherley’s high tackle on Duane Vermeulen by pinging the penalty 50 metres into the corner. Although the maul was held up, a penalty for offside followed and as half-a-dozen Munster players were embroiled in an off-the-ball scuffle John Cooney called for a quick tap under the posts from Hume to score untouched.
On his 100th Ulster appearance, Cooney landed the conversion.
Despite Munster’s handling errors and lack of sharpness with a launch play, Stuart McCloskey’s clearance from his own 22 metre line bounced unluckily dead. From the scrum, Munster generated some momentum, Cheris Farrell twice and Jean Kleyn made inroads before Gavin Coombes burst towards the posts. The ball squirted out from the ruck and came off Kleyn’s boot before he regathered to draw the sides level.
When Munster came calling again, Stephen Archer made a break from Coombes’ inside pass on the night he became their second most capped player, the match pivoted on Robert Baloucoune shooting up to engulf Joey Carbery and prevent him from putting Keith Earls over.
Carbery was also pinged for holding on and from the ensuing lineout Ulster struck stealthily, bringing Baloucoune off his wing to expose a Munster Achilles heel in defence for Hume to put the winger through a gap. Stewart Moore passed on to Ethan McIlroy and took the return offload to complete a lovely try.
Munster’s errors and discipline mounted as Ulster built through the phases with far more accuracy and width. Earls shot up to tackle Moore but when Ulster came back to the right and Hume fed Moore, albeit with an undetected forward pass, the fullback took Earls’ tackle to score.
Munster also lost Conor Murray with a failed HIA, and a very harsh call for a crooked throw against Niall Scannell left Munster trailing 19-7 at the break.
On the resumption, Archer needlessly shoved Cooney to the turf after the ball and Ulster struck again from the ensuing lineout. Hume’s out-in line on to McCloskey’s delayed short pass beat de Allende and Timoney was in support for the finish.
Munster looked to have had the lifeline of a charge down try by Coombes, but he fumbled in grounding and Fineen Wycherley was wrongly adjudged to have knocked on.
A scrum penalty, after the prop replacements, and a lineout drive earned a blindside finish by Earls from Casey’s pass, but Cooney’s penalty soon made it a three-score game before he was given a departing ovation.
A sustained Ulster attack culminated in Timoney’s carry from Iain Henderson’s tip on and from the recycle Hume accelerated through the thin red line from Burns’ pass to score a deserved try.
A second finish by Earls, again from Casey’s pass, was offset by Carbery’s conversion hitting the post and Thomas Ahern being helped off with what looked like a worrying knee injury.
Scoring sequence — 10 mins: Cooney try and con 7-0; 19 mins: Kleyn try, Carbery con 7-7; 25 mins: Moore try, Cooney con 14-7; 33 mins: Moore try 19-7; (half-time 19-7); 42 mins: Timoney try, Cooney con 26-7; 53 mins: Earls try 26-12; 56 mins: Cooney pen 29-12; 62 mins: Hume try, Doak con 36-12; 70 mins: Earls try 36-17.
ULSTER: Stewart Moore; Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Ethan McIlroy; Billy Burns, John Cooney; A Warwick, Rob Herring, Tom O’Toole; Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (capt); Marcus Rea, Nick Timoney, Duane Vermeulen.
Replacements: Eric O’Sullivan for Warwick (20 mins), Nathan Doak for Cooney (57 mins), John Andrew for Herring (63 mins), Kieran Treadwell for O’Connor, Ian Madigan for Burns (both 67 mins), Matty Rea for Vermuelen (72 mins), Gareth Milasinovich for O’Toole (75 mins), Ben Moxham for McIlroy (80 mins).
MUNSTER: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende, Keith Earls; Joey Carbery, Conor Murray; Josh Wycherley, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Fineen Wycherley, Peter O’Mahony (capt), Alex Kendellen, Gavin Coombes.
Replacements: Craig Casey for Murray (39 mins), Ben healy for Conway (45 mins), Jeremy Loughman for J Wycherley, John Ryan for Archer (both 50 mins), Diarmuid Barron for Scannell, Jason Jenkins for Kleyn, Thomas Ahern for Coombes (all 62 mins), Chris Cloete for Ahern (71 mins), Scannell for Barron (75 mins).
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)