It was, though, a further bitter blow to Munster’s Heineken Cup chances as Barry Murphy and Ian Dowling, Declan Kidney’s young stars, were both carted off to hospital.
Murphy’s season is definitely over after he dislocated his ankle and fractured his tibia. Dowling has a neck/shoulder injury but is not being ruled out of the Heineken Cup quarter-final with Perpignan.
“The defeat was disappointing, but the circumstances even more so. It’s never nice to have injuries, particularly when it happens to young guys who have been so influential in the last number of months. But that’s the way things go. We will have to see what happens and deal with it when we know more,” said Declan Kidney
Kidney was clearly perturbed with the injury situation more than the result and Munster, if not making excuses, could feel aggrieved given the circumstances.
Ulster may well gloat on the result; they more than deserved their win, but it was really sometimes a show from men against boys.
Still, Munster battled for much of the time and were led admirably, as always by Anthony Foley.
Munster were not initially overawed by the fact that they lost Mick O’Driscoll before the game through illness. They fought bravely and took the lead through a penalty from Paul Burke.
But, after 21 minutes Ulster grabbed the initiative. David Humphreys kicked wide and forward. Ian Dowling, though undoubtedly impeded, failed to deal with the dropping ball and Tommy Bowe got in for the try. Five points to Ulster, and an unusually bad decision from referee Alain Rolland. It got worse a few minutes later when Murphy was carted off to be replaced by Gary Connolly
But Munster, under pressure, appeared to cope with problems in failing to gain primary possession; that is until Roger Wilson ran in for a try after Humphreys created an overlap on the blind side. For the second time on this cold night, however, Humphreys sent his conversion wide and Munster trailed by just seven at the break but they were still right in the game.
That changed quickly early in the second half when Paul Steinmetz went in for an unopposed try that Humphreys converted. Munster hit back strongly and could have scored with an interchange between O’Leary and Lawlor.
But Ulster were denied what appeared to be a perfectly legitimate try from Jonathon Bell after 60 minutes. The replay showed another flawed decision by referee Rolland.
Then Rolland, in the mood with the crowd, sent Shaun Payne to the sin bin for what appeared to be an innocuous attempt at an interception, although he could have dealt equally as severely with Ulster’s Roger Wilson in the opening minutes.
Anyway, Ulster stormed further in front with a try from Justin Harrison to secure the bonus point.
With the issue over, Munster did their best, but it was really all one-way traffic. Neil McMillan came on as a reserve and scored the fifth try.
Munster, in the end, with all their problems and little sympathy from Mr. Rolland, can have few complaints. Ulster on top of the league, Munster left wondering what they can do now to overtake them again.
The next outing is away to Llanelli. A tough ask, especially with the injuries and unavailability of key players.
How provincial coaches might wish that the national scene might just evaporate.
: B. Cunningham; T. Bowe, J. Bell, P. Steinmetz, A. Maxwell; D. Humphreys, I. Boss; B. Young, R. Best, S. Best (captain); J. Harrison, M. McCullough; N. Best, R. Wilson, S. Ferris.
. N. Brady for R. Best, J. Fitzpatrick for Young, N. McMillan for Ferris, K. Campbell for Boss, A. Larkin for Humphreys, K. Maggs for Bell.
: S. Payne; I. Dowling, B. Murphy, T. Halstead, A. Horgan; P. Burke, T. O’Leary; F. Roche, D. Fogarty, F. Pucciariello; B. Madigan, S. Keogh, M. O’Driscoll; S. Keogh, J. O’Sullivan, A. Foley (captain), J. O’Connor.
. T. Buckley for Madigan, M. Melbourne for O’Connor, M. Lawlor for Dowling, G. Connolly for Murphy M. Ross for Roche.
: A. Rolland (Leinster).