Taking the lead for the first time with just six minutes remaining Peter O’Mahony’s side showed immense character to claim an important win.
Paddy Jackson’s boot brought Ulster the first score in seven minutes, a firmly-hoisted kick to the left and full-back Charles Piutau snatched it out of the air and ran in from 25 metres, touching down near the posts to make Jackson’s conversion a formality for a 7—0 lead.
Munster responded, Tommy O’Donnell’s energy and deftness of hand almost setting up a chance from a drive down the left, and then Ulster was quickly forced yet another midfield reshuffle when centre Darren Cave limped off in the ninth minute to be replaced by Rob Lyttle, Craig Gilroy moving to full-back and Piutau slotting in at centre.
Jack O’Donoghue, the vigorous No. 8, was prominent in the loose as the Munster pack created space and when Piutau was penalised for a clumsy challenge on the quarter-hour Ian Keatley badly mistimed his shot at the posts. His impressive forwards continued to keep the Ulster defence busy though, and hooker Niall Scannell and scrum-half Duncan Williams each almost scrambled over the line.
At the other end Jackson’s invention with hands and feet might have unlocked the Munster rearguard in the 20th minute, but his support runners got in a tangle and the chance on the left was smothered. And the home team’s casualty list was lengthened soon after when No. 8 Roger Wilson was forced off after an awkward slip, replaced by Clive Ross.
Munster’s pack, with the back-row of Peter O’Mahony, O’Donoghue and O’Donnell covering acres of ground, set much of the pattern of the first-half, but Ruan Pienaar and Piutau looked threatening on the counter and from one of their forays, in the 34th minute, a moment of opportunism doubled Ulster’s lead. The attack from a ruck looked to have gone awry, but lively replacement Lyttle swept in to gather and sprint unimpeded under the posts, Jackson’s converting.
As the half-time whistle beckoned Munster did get the reward its energy and imagination up front deserved, winger Ronan O’Mahony’s excellent intervention setting up the maul from which centre Ronan Scannell scampered over on the right corner to reduce the interval deficit to 14-5. And the visitors should have reduced the margin in the first minute of the second half, but Keatley’s 30-metre penalty from the right smacked against a post.
Ulster reacted with a sweeping attack from deep, Piutau and Luke Marshall releasing the eager Lyttle down the left in 46 minutes, but the Munster defence coped well with his clever grubber kick into space in the ‘22’. As some of the Munster effort seemed to have taken its toll Ulster mounted a series of attacks, stretching the visitors and the eager Tommy Bowe caused panic with a couple of strong runs down the side of ruck and maul, though Jaco Taule did intercept and break out on the right, only for Pienaar to haul him down on halfway.
In the 64th minute a revitalised Munster mounted sustained forward pressure on the left which had the home defence scrambling desperately, but eventually Jaco Taute forced his way over at the posts, Keatley making no mistake with his conversion to change the complexion of the game and putting his side just two points adrift at 14-12.
The home crowd sensed an unlikely upset as Taute and Williams probed, the latter key in setting up Rory Scannell’s neat 74th minute drop goal which gave the visitors the lead for the first time at 15-14. Jackson’s similar effort four minutes later slid wide as the game reached its conclusion with some furious action, Bowe mishandling just as he appeared to have a channel to the line on the right from 20 metres out.
Munster held out, its confidence restored in the final exchanges, to take three crucial points and avoid back-to-back league losses after somehow countering Ulster’s failure to capitalise on its many opportunities.
C Piutau; T Bowe, L Marshall, D Cave (Lyttle, 9), C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar (P Marshall, 75); C Black (McCall, 58), R Herring (capt) W Herbst (A Warwick, 66); D Tuohy, F van der Merwe; R Diack (C Joyce, 70), R Wilson (C Ross, 29), S Reidy.
J Andrew, K McCall, A Warwick, C Ross, C Joyce, P Marshall, B Herron, R Lyttle.
A Conway (A Wootton, 61); D Sweetnam, J Taute, R Scannell, R O’Mahony; I Keatley (D Goggin, 69), D Williams; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, J Ryan (S Archer, 70); D O’Ryan, B Holland; P O’Mahony (capt), J O’Donoghue, T O’Donnell (R Copeland, 60).
V O’Brien, B Scott, S Archer, D O’Shea, R Copeland, A Griesel, A Wooton, D Goggin.
N Owens (WRU)