Ulster 33-17 Munster
Friday 30th December @ Ravenhill
Ulster secured a try-scoring bonus point as they strolled to victory over Munster in an entertaining game at Ravenhill. The nature of this defeat will rankle with the Munster players as several of the Ulster tries came from their errors. Brian McLaughlin’s decision to rest his first-choice team for the Stephen’s Day loss to Leinster was vindicated as his more settled team overcame a Munster selection which completely failed to gel. Ulster always looked the more dangerous side in attack as they cut Munster open on several occasions.
The opening quarter of the game was a scrappy affair which foretold the entertaining game that was to follow. Ulster opened the scoring through the boot of Ian Humphreys after Lifemi Mafi went offside chasing Ian Keatley’s garryowen. Munster hit back with a try from their impressive young wing Luke O’Dea. The Shannon man collected Keatley’s cross-field kick and did well to beat the tackle of Adam D’Arcy to dive over in the right-hand corner. Keatley was on target with the difficult conversion from the touchline.
An incisive passage of Ulster play led to their next score. Humphreys slipped Pedrie Wannenburg through the Munster defence with a neat inside pass. Munster came offside as they scrambled to halt Ruan Pienaar’s snipe down the blindside. To the left of the posts, Humphreys slotted the penalty. Better was to come for Ulster as they dished out maximum punishment for a Munster mistake.
Denis Hurley spilled the ball forward as he attempted to counter-attack from his own half. Humphreys sprayed a long pass out to Darren Cave on the left. The centre had enough pace to get outside the covering defence and draw the last defender to put Stefan Terblanche over in the left-hand corner. Humphreys added the extras from the touchline to put Ulster into a 13-7 lead.
In reply, Keatley drilled over a lovely penalty from out to the right after Pienaar was penalised for questioning referee Alain Rolland’s decision-making at the breakdown. After the Munster scrum had got a strong nudge on to win another penalty, Keatley had the chance to level the game. However, he missed from what seemed an easier position than his previous kick and Ulster were let off the hook.
McLaughlin’s team responded with another try which began with Terblanche bursting out of the Ulster 22 down the left. The ball was moved through five or six pairs of hands all the way out to the right, inside Munster’s half. Chris Henry then burst through only to be hauled down by Duncan Williams. The ball was recycled and moved to Terblanche in space out on the left. The South African chose to step inside and was tackled but John Afoa was on hand to go through Williams’ tackle from just metres out. Humphreys was successful with the conversion to send Ulster into half-time 20-10 to the good.
The first half had seen Munster clearly dominant in the scrum, but on resumption of play, Ulster turned the set-piece on its head. From a Munster put-in on their own 10 metre line, Ulster got a huge shove on. As Williams picked from the base of the retreating scrum, Willie Fallon’s tackle forced him into a knock-on. Humphreys hacked the bouncing ball ahead and won the race to touch down. The outhalf inexplicably missed the easy conversion but still, it was a weak 5 points to concede from Munster’s point of view.
More of the same followed 10 minutes later. Once again, Ulster shunted Munster back on their own put-in to the scrum. Williams tried to dig the ball out of the scrum as it travelled backwards. Under pressure from Henry, his attempted pass went loose and bounced up perfectly for Pienaar to run onto and stride over from inside his own half. Humphreys missed again with the conversion but Munster now had a mountain to climb after the complete turnaround of their first-half scrum dominance.
Despite a period of sustained possession, Munster failed to create any semblance of a try-scoring opportunity. On the occasions they did find their way into Ulster territory, knock-ons meant they coughed up that possession. It was Ulster who continued to look the more threatening as they moved the ball wide at every opportunity. Humphreys extended their lead with a penalty from under the posts after David O’Callaghan had entered a ruck from the side.
With the clock running down, Munster did get a consolation try. Ulster looked to attack out of their 22 but Pienaar’s pass to substitute Peter Nelson was at the young fullback’s feet. The ball rebounded up for Johne Murphy to gather and stretch over. Keatley converted with the final score of the game.
In the end, a comfortable win for Ulster. Tony McGahan will be disappointed with some of the individual performances from his team. There weren’t many positives to be taken from this game, apart from the promising glimpses of talent from Luke O’Dea. McLaughlin will be delighted with the five points and relieved that his decision to rest players against Leinster was vindicated. Without the Irish internationals, this inter-provincial derby was always going to be devalued. Ulster dealt better with the losses and these five points mean they remain in the hunt for a play-off place.
ULSTER: 15 A D’Arcy (P Nelson, 71), 14 C Gilroy, 13 D Cave (C Farrell, 63), 12 I Whitten, 11 S Terblanche, 10 I Humphreys (P Marshall, 67), 9 R Pienaar, 1 P McAllister (C Black, 62), 2 A Kyriacou (N Brady, 55), 3 J Afoa (A Macklin, 71), 4 J Muller (capt.), 5 D Tuohy (L Stevenson, 62), 6 C Henry, 7 W Faloon (A Birch, 71), 8 P Wannenburg.
MUNSTER: 15 D Hurley, 14 L O’Dea, 13 T Gleeson (W Chambers, 27), 12 L Mafi (S Deasy, 63), 11 J Murphy, 10 I Keatley, 9 D Williams (T O’Leary, 62), 1 W du Preez (M Horan, 69), 2 D Varley (D Fogarty, 49), 3 S Archer, 4 I Nagle (B Holland, 73), 5 M O’Driscoll (capt.), 6 Dave O’Callaghan, 7 T O’Donnell (P Butler, 37), 8 J Coughlan.
Referee: A Rolland (IRFU).
Photos courtesy: Ryk Neethling, M+MD, Fabio Beretta.