Ian Keatley defies the critics to revive passionate Munster

Ulster 7 Munster 9: The often-criticised Ian Keatley emerged as Munster’s hero as the province halted their worst losing streak for a decade in sneaking a deserved Pro12 victory over Ulster in their own back yard.

Keatley landed a penalty in each half and also swept over a superbly executed drop goal in the 58th minute to propel Munster back up the Guinness Pro12 table. and deliver a timely boost going into three successive European games.

Keatley directed operations as Munster played with verve, passion and composure with their defence tackling to a virtual standstill. Keatley kept the ball in front of his marauding pack for most of the game with delicate kicks, and such was Munster’s in-your-face approach, Ulster neither had the accuracy or commitment to get into any sort of rhythm.

Ulster’s full-back Louis Ludik did score the only try of the game, albeit a dodgy one, with Paddy Jackson landing the conversion to give his side a 7-3 half-time advantage. Keatley’s drop goal kept Munster alive, and his penalty on the hour turned out to be the winner. Jackson had two chances to win the game for Ulster, but both penalty chances were missed.

“Ravenhill is a fortress to come to and we are obviously delighted to get the win,” said Keatley afterwards. “Even though they had the lead at half-time and needed 20-plus phases to get their try. Ulster are so hard to analyse particularly over the last few weeks. But we worked hard, stuck together and credit to the coaching staff who put together a good game plan and we executed it well.”

The result also put a smile back on the face of Anthony Foley, who admitted Munster enjoyed luck, but singled out Keatley’s performance.

“Ian had pivotal moments, and put us in the right areas at the right time. Everyone goes through a tough period, and you can’t continue to get battered week-in, week-out, whether it is personally or publicly so it was important for Ian as he is an important cog to us. There’s no point in burying him, so hopefully this will give him some life and he can kick on from here.

“I think we got a bit of luck. There were one or two occasions which we did get a bit of luck for example, when Paddy (Jackson) dropped a penalty short and Frankie (Saili) knock it on in front of the posts, but despite the two touch-judges and referee around him, nobody spotted it or it would have been a five-metre scrum right in front of our posts.

“In the past we didn’t get that good fortune when we needed it. It’s stuff like that, that can turn a game. The game is full of fine margins, so it’s important for us to get on right side, and we had a lucky charm on Saturday. At half-time I thought we could have done better in the first half when we had moments which we didn’t sustain. In the middle and end of the first half, I thought we didn’t camp as much in their half as we should have. But there is no doubt that the boys turned up for each other on Saturday.

Foley also had one eye on next Saturday’s encounter with Stade Francais.

“We have looked at all their games this week as part of our work, and will take in their game against Toulouse yesterday. So up to this point we are ready to go for next week. When you go over to the French champions in their own back garden you have to be respectful and put on a performance and work to get a result over there.

“So winning at Ravenhill is massive to get that momentum, and it was great to see the character come out in the players when nobody shirked their responsibility. So it’s important that we take that on now for the rest of the season.”

Ulster skipper Rory Best was downbeat at his side’s performance. “Obviously bitterly disappointed. We cannot expect to turn up and win these types of big games. We didn’t get too carried away when we were winning, and we will certainly not get too carried away with this loss. Unfortunately in a season you get ups and downs and you are not always going to get the perfect performance.

“Munster had a very good defence, and worked very hard and we just couldn’t get the ball in the second-half. When we did, we turned it over too easily and ultimately we will take a look at the game. We know we can play a lot better and we will not have a knee-jerk reaction.”

Scorers for Ulster:

Try: Ludik, Cons: Jackson.

Munster:

Pens: Keatley 2; Dg: Keatley.

ULSTER:

L Ludik; A Trimble, L Marshall (Arnold, 54), S McCloskey, R Scholes; P Jackson, R Pienaar (Marshall, 72); K McCall (Black, 65), R Best (capt), W Herbst (Lutton, 35); L Stevenson (O’Connor, 53) F van der Merwe, R Diack (Wilson, 53), C Henry, N Williams (Herring, 72).

MUNSTER:

Gonzalez Amorosino, van den Heever, Sali, R. Scannell, R. O’Mahony, Keatley, O’Leary, Kilcoyne, Sherry, Botha, B. Holland, Chisholm, O’Donoghue, O’Donnell, Stander.

Replacements:

Hurley for R. Scannell (57), Williams for O’Leary (57), N. Scannell for Sherry (56), J. Ryan for Botha (71), Copeland for O’Donnell (56).

Referee:

G Conway (IRFU).

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