Flannery injury sours Munster win
Munster 35 Ulster 10:Four second half tries put the shine on a patchy Munster performance against Ulster at Thomond Park but the bonus point win was marred by yet another injury to hooker Jerry Flannery.
The Ireland international has been dogged by a calf injury for the past 16 months and he pulled up again n the build up to Lifiemi Mafi’s crucial injury time try. The home fans, and presumably the Ireland management team, watched in despair as he was helped from the pitch back to the dressing room.
Nevertheless, Munster stretched their Magners League lead over Llanelli Scarlets to nine points after the Welsh side edged their derby with Newport-Gwent Dragons 21-15.
It was a win that looked a long way off at halftime. In wet conditions, Ulster stole an early march on their provincial rivals with a Thomas Anderson try and five points from the boot of Paddy Wallace.
Trailing 10-6 at the break, Munster clawed their way back through the boot of Paul Warwick and a Denis Hurley try.
The league leaders upped the tempo as a tiring Ulster lost Neil McComb to the sin-bin, and the late hat-trick, courtesy of Tommy O’Donnell, Barry Murphy and Mafi, settled the issue.
A crisp strike from Warwick towards the right corner put Ulster under immediate pressure from the off, but Munster could not make use of the early territory. Warwick miscued a penalty to the left of the posts, and some good continuity from Paul Marshall and the Ulster forwards was rewarded by Wallace’s well-struck opener in the 10th minute.
Munster’s midfield was sliced wide open two minutes later by a side-stepping Tommy Seymour and he was able to link with Willie Faloon before Anderson fended off Peter Stringer on the way to the try-line. It was a superbly executed try, exposing some poor defending from the hosts and Wallace added the extras for a 10-0 scoreline.
Warwick kicked one of two penalty attempts as Munster upped the intensity, yet Ulster, led by fit-again captain Rory Best, continued to carry more of an attacking threat.
Scrumhalf Marshall was a livewire throughout, and his 30-metre burst from the back of a ruck almost resulted in a try. But Munster survived and some Ulster indiscipline offered them a welcome slice of territory.
Warwick was back on target from a 32nd-minute penalty, and Wallace could not add to Ulster’s tally as his penalty attempt at the end of the opening half went to the right of the target.
A series of pick-and-go drives from the home forwards set up Warwick for a three-pointer from close range early in the second half, and Munster finally found another gear.
Sam Tuitupou and Keith Earls sprung Scott Deasy through a gap and over halfway, Munster maintained possession and Warwick’s looping pass sent Hurley in at the left corner.
Cue the introduction of hooker Flannery, back for the first time since October, and after Ulster replacement McComb was sin-binned for illegally bringing down a maul, the hosts began to dominate.
Denis Leamy was held up over the try-line and just when a penalty try was looming, an early engagement at a five-metre scrum saw Munster blow a huge opportunity, but they were not to be denied. When Earls was hauled down short of the line by Chris Henry, the Munster forwards piled in and O’Donnell crossed from close range. Warwick’s conversion made the game safe at 21-10.
Ulster threw caution to the wind and after Marshall lost possession from a tap penalty, Murphy was able to hack the loose ball downfield before dotting down for his try.
Doug Howlett earned a yellow card for killing Ulster ball in the dying minutes, but an injury-time counter attack, sparked by an Earls burst and carried on by Murphy and Donnacha Ryan, was finished by Mafi for the bonus point score.