It was a game that Ulster needed to win if they were to have any chance of some end-of-season fair, and they did it in some style with a pacy and direct performance in very wet and slippery conditions that made handling difficult.
The four tries proved a real bonus for the men in white with Stefan Terblanche, John Afoa, Ian Humphreys and Ruan Pienaar touching down, with the Ulster fly-half also adding 10 points with the boot.
Considering that Ulster failed to get out of bottom gear initially and falling behind to a Luke O’Dea try in the 14th minute, it turned out to be a fine evening’s work. Ian Keatley kicked a penalty for Munster and also converted a late effort from Johne Murphy. But it was little consolation for the visitors, who made too many mistakes to really put it up to Ulster.
However, it was the Munster pack that laid down a marker from the off as they drove the home back on their haunches with some powerful driving in the early stages.
However, after both hookers skewed throws at lineouts, it was Ulster who set the scoreboard rolling in the sixth minute.
Lifeimi Mafi found himself yards offside from an Ian Keatley bomb and Humphreys stepped up to rifle over the penalty from 35 metres.
There was little cohesion from either side as silly errors and running lines left a lot to be desired. However, there was nothing wrong with the build-up or the execution of the opening try of the game in the 14th minute.
After a succession of pick and drives by the Munster pack, Ulster were on the back foot. With Munster playing keep-ball, the Ulster defence was stretched and a well-directed cross-field kick found O’Dea in acres of space and he pushed his way past Adam D’Arcy to dive in at the corner, with the try given after a visit to the TMO. Keatley thumped over the conversion from the touchline to give Munster a deserved lead.
Ulster almost hit back with a breakaway try midway through the half when a break by Pedrie Wannenburg sent scrum-half Ruan Pineaar away on a charge, but brilliant scrambling defence by Munster prevented a try, despite giving away a penalty, which Humphreys knocked over.
It got even better for Ulster in the 25th minute with Terblanche grabbing his debut try in his first start. It all started with a great tackle by John Afoa on Denis Hurley who spilled the ball.
Ulster played advantage and Humphreys fired out a long pass to Darren Cave to run into acres of space before drawing the last man and put the former Springbok over in the corner, from where Humphreys landed the conversion.
It was still very much nip and tuck and a piece of, petulance from Pienaar saw referee Alain Rolland move a penalty 10 metres forward and Keatley did the rest off an upright. However, Keatley fluffed a simple effort a few minutes later after Munster destroyed an Ulster scrum.
Ulster took full advantage when they went down the park and scored their second try in the 35th minute.
It was the hard-working Chris Henry who set the ball rolling with a charging run through the Munster defence. Good recycling saw the ball swing from right to left before Terblanche was collared short of the line. However, the ball was recycled once again, and it was the big All Black Afoa who stormed over, Humphreys again adding the extras.
No sooner had the crowd settled into their places again than Ulster scored their third try, thanks to some untidy work at the base of the Munster scrum. The visitors had the put-in but a big shove from Ulster had scrum-half Duncan Williams in trouble and Humphreys hacked the ball over the goal-line, then quickly followed up to get the touchdown to put Ulster 25-10 ahead.
Everything that Ulster did from the restart was done at pace and it had Munster struggling to keep up. Humphreys missed a simple penalty to stretch Ulster’s lead in the 50th minute lead.
But it didn’t matter a jot as another under-pressure Munster scrum allowed Pienaar to disrupt at the base, pick-up the loose ball and sprint 45 metres to the corner for the bonus try.
Ulster appeared to turn off the boilers as they allowed Munster to come into the game the final 15 minutes. But at least it gave Ulster’s defence a testing time, and they stood solid and strong, with Munster having not added to their score since the 28th minute.
Munster put that right with five minutes remaining when Ulster tried to run the ball from under their own posts and Pienaar’s loose pass was fumbled by replacement Peter Nelson and Johne Murphy had the easiest of tasks of trotting in for the try which Keatley converted.
Scorers: for Ulster: Tries: Terblanche, Afoa, Humphreys, Pienaar; Pens: Humphreys 2, Pienaar Cons: Humphreys 2. Munster: Tries: O’Dea, Murphy; Pens: Keatley; Cons: Keatley 2.
ULSTER: A D’Arcy (Nelson, 71); C Gilroy, D Cave (Farrell, 63), I Whitten, S Terblanche; I Humphreys (Marshall, 67), R Pienaar; P McAllister (Black, 62), A Kyriacou (Brady, 55), J Afoa (Macklin, 71), J Muller (Captain), D Tuohy (Stevenson, 62) P Wannenburg, W Faloon (Birch, 71), C Henry.
MUNSTER: D Hurley; L O’Dea, T Gleeson (Chambers, 27), L Mafi (Deasy, 63), J Murphy; I Keatley, D Williams (O’Leary, 62); W du Preez (Horan, 69), D Varley (Fogarty, 49), S Archer; I Nagle (Holland, 73), M O’Driscoll, capt, Dave O’Callaghan, T O’Donnell (Butler, 37), J Coughlan.
Referee: A Rolland (IRFU).
* Understrength Scarlets stunned Welsh rivals Newport Gwent Dragons with a gutsy 10-6 Pro12 League win at Rodney Parade.
Johnathan Edwards grabbed the game’s only try as the opening quarter drew to a close, Dan Newton converting. Jason Tovey kicked the Dragons points with two first-half penalties. Ex-Dragon Aled Thomas kicked the only points after the break.