Munster 32 Ulster 28: It isn’t often that a line-out steal proves the defining moment in a nine try Guinness Pro 12 thriller. But that was very much the case at Thomond Park last night when Rob Herring, the Ulster captain, threw into a line-out five metres from the Munster line in the 79th minute with his side needing a try to overcome a four point deficit.
But the home team’s recent Australian recruit, Mark Chisholm, jumped highest, claimed the ball and a few minutes later they were celebrating a 32-28 victory after a marvellous game that sent the 7,200 strong crowd home in very happy frame of mind.
Munster scored five tries for a five point haul and justifiably celebrated in style; Ulster touched down for one less and departed Limerick with two points, a reward they fully merited for some superb, high tempo rugby that you suspect will see them become a major force in the very near future.
A very strong wind blew down the middle of the pitch favouring Munster in the first-half and when they turned over leading by only a single point, 19-18, it looked like they could be in for a Halloween Horror. However, the spirit and resolution displayed in defence on the turnover delighted coach Anthony Foley while the opportunism they displayed in poaching two tries to add to the three they had scored in the opening half proved invaluable.
The start last night must have seemed eerily similar to Foley to the finish of their game a week earlier in Llanelli when his side threw away a fifth successive league win through the needless concession of two late penalties. This time, a strong tackle by Stuart McCluskey forced Francis Saili into a hasty pass and the ball ended up in the welcoming arms of Craig Gilroy who looked up to see an open field in front of him. He coasted home from all of 75 metres and even though Paddy Jackson missed the conversion,
Munster were already facing an uphill task for no side wants to fall behind so early in a game with such a meaningful wind at their backs.
Still, they hit back impressively as a clever break by man of the match Tomás O’Leary and a smart pass by James Cronin opened the door for Andrew Conway to squeeze into the left corner for his second try in as many matches. Ian Keatley converted with a fine kick but Ulster weren’t slow in regaining the lead. Jackson kicked a penalty and after 26 minutes former Munster player Nick Williams at number eight for the visitors used his massive bulk to set up the chance for Gilroy to touch down for his second, once again unopposed.
To their credit, Munster again responded in style. The dancing feet of Simon Zebo and support from Keatley paved the way for their second try between the sticks by Robin Copeland. Keatley converted and then it was the turn of Gerhard van den Heever to display his scorching pace as he raced over for Munster’s third try on 33 minutes.
They now enjoyed a six point advantage, 19 points to 13, but such was Ulster’s enterprising and aggressive approach that they were always liable to strike. And when they forced a five metre line-out on the stroke of half time, it came as little surprise when they mauled their way over and flanker Sean Reidy got the touch down.
Already it was three tries apiece with a lot more sure to follow. Jackson hit a post with the straightforward conversion attempt, leaving Munster a point in front at the break.
The drama continued unabated. Jackson (drop goal) and Keatley (pen) exchanged three pointers before a towering Garryowen by the home out-half hung in the wind and the breaking ball fell to Denis Hurley who touched down for Munster’s bonus point and a 27-21 lead on the hour.
A few minutes later and the 7,200 strong crowd was ecstatic as Zebo finished off a terrific move. Neither try was converted and this game was far from over. Replacement Dan Tuohy galloped over for Ulster’s fourth, Jackson converted from the touch line, and Munster’s lead was down to four points.
And then came the nail biting climax ... after Chisholm’s line-out steal, Keatley kicked the ball out of the stadium in the belief that the game was over. But he had jumped the gun and Munster had to withstand one further pressure-laden attack before victory was theirs.
Tries: Conway, Copeland, van den Heever, Hurley, Zebo. Cons: Keatley 2. Pens: Keatley.
Conway, Zebo, Sali, Hurley, van den Heever, Keatley, O’Leary, Cronin, Sherry, Botha, Foley, Chisholm, Stander, O’Donoghue, Copeland.
R. Scannell for Hurley (71), J. Ryan for Cronin (67), Casey for Sherry (57), D. Ryan for Foley (51), Coghlan for O’Donoghue (71).
Tries: Gilroy 2, Williams, Tuohy. Cons: Jackson. Pens: Jackson 2.
Nelson, Gilroy, Cave, McCloskey, Trimble, Jackson, P. Marshall, Warwick, Herring, Herbst, Stevenson, van der Merwe, Wilson, Reidy, Williams.
Arnold for Trimble (41), Black for Warwick (52), Andrew for Herring (68), Tuohy for van der Merwe (65), Henry for Reidy (54).
Marius Mitrea (Italy).
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