Munster Rugby 24 Ulster Rugby 24
An all-changed Munster team hosted provincial rivals Ulster at Thomond Park on Saturday evening in the Guinness Pro14, a game in which the visitors required a winning bonus point to have any chance of progressing to the play-off stages of this season’s competition.
Duncan Williams put Munster ahead, however, two minutes in when latching onto a ball off an Ulster scrum. Scrum half Dave Shanahan was slow getting the ball out of the ruck with Robin Copeland making life difficult for him as the Connacht-bound back row made a nuisance of himself. As the ball fell loose, the alert Williams picked it up and touched down to the surprise of the crowd who had barely settled into their seats. JJ Hanrahan cheekily converted the try while the referee was still consulting with the TMO about the legality of the score. Luckily for the home side the Kerryman also succeeded when requested by the match official to take the conversion attempt again.
The lead only lasted minutes as a great pick-up from Jacob Stockdale, who broke through a poor Munster defence, offloaded to Stuart McCloskey who scored a five-pointer. The successful conversion by Johnny McPhillips levelled the score with only 6 minutes on the clock. Another McPhillips kick, a penalty in the 16th minute, put Ulster ahead for the time in the game.
Munster’s Darren Sweetnam, playing on the wing, gained possession of the ball on the 10m line and seeing prop Calum Black in the defensive line, the Cork player backed himself as he sliced through the Ulster defence. The movement eventually saw prop Brian Scott get his side back in front with their second try of the evening. Hanrahan added the two-point conversion for a 14-10 lead.
An excellent powerful Ulster drive saw Ireland international captain Rory Best put his side back in the lead with a score off a maul, before McPhillips continued his successful goal kicking with a conversion for a 17-14 lead for the visitors.
When Ulster’s Alan O’Connor won possession in a lineout, momentum in the scrum assisted Best in scoring his second try off another powerful maul. McPhillips made it a ten point game at the interval, 24-14 to the Ulstermen.
Robin Copeland, back on the field having been sin-binned late in the opening 40 minutes of play, got his side’s first score of the second period. With JJ Hanrahan converting, the southern province was now within a converted penalty of Ulster, who had Luke Marshall in sin-binned for cynical play.
With roles in the scrum reversed in the second half, Munster began dominating, with the introduction of Stephen Archer giving his team the upper hand in that area. A JJ Hanrahan penalty 12 minutes from the final whistle would be the final score of the game, despite the Currow player’s botched attempt at a drop goal late on.
Munster will now play Edinburgh in the Guinness Pro14 semi-final play-off at Thomond Park next Saturday 5th May, with a 3.15pm kick-off. Ulster, meanwhile, must ensure they gain qualification for the European Champions Cup next season.