Tries from Rob Herring, Robert Baloucoune – the recipient of a yellow card in the very first minute for an over-exuberant aerial challenge – and David Shanahan made the difference, with the visitors failing to cross the Ulster try-line throughout the 80 minutes.
Bereft of two proven match-winners in the shape of Iain Henderson and Jacob Stockdale due to injury, Ulster drafted in two direct replacements in lock Ian Nagle and winger Baloucoune, with the only other change to the first XV the inclusion of Herring – tonight’s skipper – at hooker in place of Rory Best.
Otherwise Ulster lined up unchanged with Louis Ludik at full-back, Henry Speight on the wing, Will Addison and Stuart McCloskey in midfield, and the half-back pairing of Billy Burns and John Cooney.
Up front Eric O’Sullivan and Marty Moore retained their starting berths at prop, with Kieran Treadwell pairing with Nagle in the second row, and a back row of flankers Sean Reidy and Jordi Murphy either side of Number Eight Marcell Coetzee.
The first half proved low on points scored, but featured plenty of incident including several off-the-ball skirmishes to highlight the very real rivalry between the interprovincial neighbours.
The evening got off to a nightmarish start for Baloucoune, sinbinned within 15 seconds of the whistle for a dangerous aerial tackle on Darren Sweetnam as the winger collected the kick-off, but the Munstermen made little of their numerical advantage, only securing three points through a JJ Hanrahan penalty seconds before the youngster retook the field.
Back to a full XV, Ulster began piecing the passes together, but their cause was not helped by the loss of Cooney to a head injury on 24 minutes, Shanahan taking over scrum-half duties before a sublime Addison break on the half-hour won a penalty which Burns chose to kick to touch.
Ulster flexed their muscles in the resulting rolling maul, Herring barging over for the score and Burns coolly dispatching the conversion.
Half-Time Score Ulster 7 Munster 3
A strong start to the second half for Munster came to an abrupt end with a misplaced pass straight into touch, but Ulster proved similarly wasteful in possession and the visitors were next on the scoresheet, Hanrahan slotting a penalty from 30 metres on 50 minutes.
Herring and Ludik made way for Best and James Hume at this point, the rookie back making an immediate impact with two strong bursts in his first 60 seconds, before another penalty to touch and lineout got Ulster close to the line where another knock-on unfortunately stymied their progress.
However the breakthrough was not long in coming, Hume, Shanahan and Baloucoune combining down the left after a fine offload from Best, and Burns once again adding the extras on the hour mark.
Munster clawed three back five minutes later courtesy of replacement out-half Bill Johnston, but it was to prove immaterial as four minutes from time the prolific Shanahan was again on hand to sneak in at the corner, Best once more providing the assist.
Johnston added another penalty on the stroke of full-time to salvage a losing bonus point for the visitors, who now sit second in Conference A on 35 points. Ulster, meanwhile, go into their post-Christmas clash with Connacht on 33 points in Conference B, with a full 11 points to make up on runaway leaders Leinster.
Full-Time Score Ulster 19 Munster 12
Ulster (15 – 9) Louis Ludik; Henry Speight, Will Addison, Stuart McCloskey, Robert Baloucoune; Billy Burns, John Cooney
(1 – 8) Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Ian Nagle, Kieran Treadwell, Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy, Marcell Coetzee
Replacements (16 – 23) Rory Best, Kyle McCall, Ross Kane, Clive Ross, Nick Timoney, David Shanahan, Johnny McPhillips, James Hume
Munster (15 – 9) Mike Haley; Darren Sweetnam, Sam Arnold, Jaco Taute, Allex Wootton; JJ Hanrahan, Alby Matthewson
(1 – 8) Jeremy Loughman, Kevin O’Byrne, Stephen Archer, Jean Kleyn, Darren O’Shea, Fineen Wycherley, Conor Oliver, Arno Botha
Replacements (16 – 23) Mike Sherry, Dave Kilcoyne, Ciaran Parker, Gavin Coombes, Tommy O’Donnell, Neil Cronin, Bill Johnston, Shane Daly