Ulster edge diluted Munster side in error-strewn contest
Johann van Grann’s team come away from Belfast with only a losing bonus point
Ulster’s Rob Herring celebrates scoring a try against Munster on Friday night. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
It was poor enough fare but Ulster just about had enough to see off a highly diluted Munster side who still managed to come away from the Kingspan with a losing bonus point.
There was precious little to recommend this first festive interprovincial, with occasional flashes of Ulster’s ability to play being overwhelmed by an error-strewn effort from both sides, with the occasional boiling over of tempers.
Ulster might have had Robert Baloucoune red-carded from the kick-off but they survived his yellow card and scored three tries, with Baloucoune’s effort coming between touchdowns by Rob Herring and Dave Shanahan.
Munster’s doggedness allowed them hang in there without ever coming close to scoring a try, Bill Johnston’s 80th minute penalty ensuring they returned south with that point which was no mean achievement after so many changes to Johann van Grann’s side. Once again Ulster brought on Rory Best when things were looking wobbly and though he too contributed to the error count, one great pass helped create Baloucoune’s score as they ground out the four points to rack up a sixth win from their last seven games.
The festive series of interpros came with typically dank weather for Belfast as well as being accompanied by another familiar look to this time of year with the home side looking pretty well loaded while Munster came north with 13 changes to their starting side from the one which lost at Castres.
This was not exactly hugely encouraging for Munster’s bid to win for only a third time on the road this season as Van Graan doubtless kept his powder dry for Leinster’s visit to Thomond Park next weekend.
Bar the rested Jacob Stockdale and the injured Iain Henderson, no Ireland player management considerations held his selection back.
Having Baloucoune yellow-carded after from the kick-off when he clattered Darren Sweetnam in the air after just 12 seconds of play didn’t augur well for the home side. It was a reckless hit by the Ulster winger, and he may well have been fortunate not to be shown red by referee Sean Gallagher.
Munster, though, failed to take much advantage, with JJ Hanrahan’s 11th minute penalty being easily slotted after Will Addison had strayed offside in Ulster’s 22 just at Baloucoune prepared to return.
The game continued on its scrappy way with rare moments of note which mostly came from the home side.
Baloucoune ought to have done better from Billy Burns’ 17th minute cross-kick but failed to collect it and then Henry Speight – playing his last home game before his returning to the Brumbies – took a Garryowen and surge out of his 22 only for his chip ahead to be easily charged down by Hanrahan.
Seven minutes after John Cooney left after shipping a heavy knock in a tackle, the game – which had been marred by a few scuffles up to this point – erupted into life after Mike Haley failed to handle a David Shanahan high kick.
Ulster recycled and moved the ball wide, creating space for Addison, who tore through a gap but then failed to supply Shanahan’s trail-run after the replacement scrum-half appeared to have overrun the ball.
Still, the home side then moved the ball left and won a penalty, though Burns used the advantage to launch an accurate cross-kick to Speight who failed to hold the ball.
Ulster then came back and went for the corner. Munster native Ian Nagle took the lineout and when the driving maul splintered, Rob Herring easily crashed through the rather exposed Hanrahan.
Burns, filling in for the departed Cooney, added the conversion and a thoroughly unmemorable half ended with Ulster leading by just 7-3. Hanrahan then closed Ulster’s lead to a point on 51 minutes after an initial penalty against Addison for a high tackle on Hanrahan ended up with the home side being marched back extra yardage after some back-chat from Marcell Coetzee.
It prompted Best’s arrival and Ulster scored their second try just after the hour after Speight made the initial break out on the right wing and Ulster moved the ball ambitiously across the field to the left.
Sub James Hume broke through and after linking with Shanahan, the replacement scrum-half put Baloucoune clear to run in under the sticks.
Burns added the easy extras and Ulster now led 14-6, though this lead was cut by sub Bill Johnston’s 65th minute penalty after Stuart McCloskey’s high tackle.
Ulster’s third try finally came in the 76th minute when they kicked a penalty to the corner and off the maul, Coetzee and Best combined to put Shanahan in at the corner. Burns missed the conversion.
The game ended with Johnston kicking a second penalty to give Munster a losing bonus point.
Scoring sequence: 11 mins JJ Hanrahan pen 0-3, 32mins R Herring try, Burns con 7-3, h-t 7-3, 51mins Hanrahan pen 6-7, 61mins R Baloucoune try and con Burns 14-6, 65mins Johnston pen 14-9, try D Shanahan 19-9, 80mins Johnston pen 19-12.
Ulster: L Ludik; H Speight, W Addison, S McCloskey, R Baloucoune; B Burns, J Cooney: E O’Sullivan, R Herring (Capt), M Moore; I Nagle, K Treadwell; S Reidy, J Murphy, M Coetzee.
Replacements: D Shanahan for Cooney 24mins , R Best for Herring 51mins, J Hume for Ludik 51mins, K McCall for O’Sullivan 54mins, R Kane for Moore 55mins, N Timoney for Reidy 59mins, J McPhillips for Hume 66mins, O’Sullivan for McCall 72mins . Not used: C Ross . Yellow cards: R Baloucoune 11 secs.
Munster: M Haley; D Sweetnam, S Arnold, J Taute (Capt), A Wootton; JJ Hanrahan, A Mathewson; J Loughman, K O’Byrne, S Archer; J Kleyn, D O’Shea; F Wycherley, C Oliver, A Botha.
Replacements: T O’Donnell for Oliver and N Cronin for Mathewson both 55mins, D Kilcoyne for Loughman 55mins, B Johnston for Haley 56mins, S Daly for Hanrahan 62mins, C Parker for Archer and G Coombes for Kleyn both 66mins, M Sherry for O’Bryne 67mins.
Referee: S Gallagher (IRFU).