Munster too good for Ulster’s early and late show

Ulster fall just short of late smash and grab after Foley’s men recover from slow start

Munster’s Duncan Williams slides over in the corner for his side’s second try during the win over Ulster at Thomond Park

Munster’s Duncan Williams slides over in the corner for his side’s second try during the win over Ulster at Thomond Park

 

Munster 21 Ulster 20

It’s hard to know how Ulster felt leaving Thomond Park. Leading 12-0 and dominant in the opening quarter, they conceded a mini avalanche of points, 21 to be precise in a 23 minute spell, either side of the interval, and yet thanks to a Nick Williams try, watched as Ian Humphreys stood over a conversion to win the match.

The outhalf had kicked five from five up to this point but grabbed his head in anguish as his kick missed the left hand upright. It was rough justice on a personal level. Munster will wonder how they had been backed into such a perilous predicament given that they should have scored at least two more tries and a handful too from placed ball opportunities.

They probably just about deserved their victory in a match that was hugely enjoyable if littered by basic errors and some poor defending. Gerhard van den Heever and Craig Gilroy both purred in attack while Robin Copeland was a deserving winner of the man-of the match before limping off, although Donncha O’Callaghan pushed him hard, a real nuisance for the visitors.

Munster, trailing 12-3 and defending inside their 22, understood the value of introducing some old fashioned, niggle. Referee Ian Davies had already blown for a forward pass but as bodies piled into the ruck, Ulster number eight Nick Williams was goaded into retaliating, throwing the ball and after the intervention of television match official Kevin Beggs, the visitors were penalised.

Munster kicked the penalty to touch on the halfway line, set up a ruck in midfield and from there scrumhalf Duncan Williams’ neat inside pass, allowed left wing Ronan O’Mahony to surge clear. He demonstrated some neat footwork to avoid a couple of tacklers, and when eventually brought down in a double tackle, Munster moved the ball and Denis Hurley rode a tackle to give Robin Copeland an easy run-in.

The two events were separated by a little over a minute. Munster had ratcheted up the temperature on the field and in the stands. The momentum had changed emphatically. Keatley’s missed conversion - he’d earlier pulled a penalty wide - was an irritant but it looked as if would atone with just a couple of minutes to the interval.

Gerhard van den Heever’s second brilliant break of the half took play into the Ulster 22 and when Keatley swept to the blindside, a try beckoned based on simple arithmetic in personnel but the outhalf’s pass went behind BJ Botha and the opportunity was lost.

At that point Ulster led 12-8, Ian Humphreys offering up a handsome exhibition of place-kicking with four successes from as many attempts. The visitors had been playing some decent rugby and in centre Stuart McCloskey and secondrow Alan O’Connor, two players who were dynamically effective in breaking the gain-line.

They eviscerated the Munster scrum on a couple of occasions, forcing penalties, and all this while playing into a stiff breeze. But that one moment of indiscipline changed the nature of the contest. The interval didn’t do anything to dilute Munster’s new found ardour for the contest and they resumed with an undiminished ferocity.

Ulster’s fringe defence at rucks was increasingly porous and Robin Copeland - he damaged a knee in the play and was soon replaced by Tommy O’Donnell - illustrated this graphically with a superb break that took play into the Ulster 22. A scrum was called, and despite a fumble from CJ Stander, Williams pirouetted and scampered over in the corner.

Keatley kicked a brilliant touchline conversion and having discovered his rhythm then tagged on two penalties, the second of which was a thunderous strike into the stiff breeze. Munster led 21-12, Ulster completed deflated and save for once brief salvo were corralled in their half and for the most part, the 22.

Munster coach Anthony Foley freshened his side from the bench and Tommy O’Donnell in particular provided great energy. Referee Ian Davies awarded Munster eight consecutive penalties, a reflection of their complete dominance - two came at scrum time - the visitors’ indiscipline and the fact he was looking only one way at ruck time.

The dead ball line denied JJ Hanrahan a try, the upright Keatley’s penalty attempt seconds later but there was a twist to come in the narrative. Munster’s replacement tighthead Stephen Archer received a yellow card for taking out the jumper in a lineout with nine minutes left.

Humphreys kicked the penalty to bring Ulster back into bonus point range at 21-15 and then with just two minutes left, the visitors won a scrum penalty and kicked to the corner. The television match official denied Ulster the first time as the maul went over the line, but not when consulted for a second time, when Williams muscled his way over, again from a lineout maul.

Humphreys, who had kicked beautifully all night, watched in horror as his conversion, from 15 metres in on the wrong side, stayed outside the left hand upright. The outhalf might have taken on an injury time penalty from inside his half but it was close to the touchline. CJ Stander forced a penalty two rucks later, the climax to an enthralling spectacle.

Scoring sequence

2 mins: Humphreys penalty, 0-3; 10: Humphreys penalty, 0-6; 12: Humphreys penalty, 0-9; 20: Humphreys penalty, 0-12; 23: Keatley penalty, 3-12; 29: Copeland try, 8-12. Half-time: 8-12. 43: Williams try, Keatley conversion, 15-12; 51: Keatley penalty, 18-12; 54: Keatley penalty 21-12; 72: Humphreys penalty, 21-15; Williams try, 21-20.

Munster: JJ Hanrahan; G van den Heever, P Howard, D Hurley, R O’Mahony; I Keatley, D Williams; J Ryan, D Casey, BJ Botha; D O’Callaghan (capt), B Holland; R Copeland, P Butler, CJ Stander. Replacements: A Smith for Howard 28 mins; D Kilcoyne for Ryan 49 mins; T O’Donnell for Copeland 49 mins; F Jones for Hanrahan 65 mins; S Archer for Botha 68 mins; Botha for Butler 77 mins.

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: P Nelson for Olding 41-42 mins; M Heaney for Marshall 55 mins; L Stevenson for O’Connor 59 mins; A Warwick for Black 60 mins; D Fitzpatrick for Herbst 60 mins; R Diack for Reidy 60 mins; R Herring for Best 64 mins; P Nelson 64 mins; .

Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)

Yellow card: S Archer (Munster) 71 mins.

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