Ian Keatley delighted to help Munster conquer Ulster 'fortress'
Ulster 7 Munster 9
A strange old game with a dramatic finish, the upshot of which is that Munster have avoided the dreaded stat of setting a new record for consecutive defeats; and the buzz around Kingspan has had its volume turned down a bit.
With almost the last kick of the game Paddy Jackson had the chance to save his team with a penalty that might have been more appealing at the start of the day when he was operating on a full tank. His tired effort was off target.
How it came about in the first place was a story in itself however. With time almost up and Ulster struggling to get out of their own half, replacement Paul Marshall box-kicked to Lucas Amorosino, who knocked it on - whereupon Gerhard van den Heever picked it up from an offside position. You can imagine the chat in the Munster camp if they had lost on the back of that.
Instead they were celebrating at the finish, largely on the back of a much better second half where Ian Keatley's punting for territory was first class.
"It was just about working hard for each other," the outhalf said. "We weren't doing that much wrong, but it was just sloppy: lads knocking on, execution of things. We've been talking about it for a few weeks but we executed today.
"This place is a fortress to come to and we are just delighted to get the ball rolling again and we're in to Europe for the next three weeks."
Ulster are on the same road, but will go to Oyannax next Sunday for their postponed game without the confidence boost that would have come from five wins on the trot.
Unlike Munster here in the second half they were intent on running pretty much everything, regardless of position. It was the long way about going forward, for they had to service a whopping 109 breakdowns as against Munster's 83. It wasn't as if referee Gary Conway was doling out penalties at this phase - or indeed any other - so it was enervating stuff, and ultimately undid them.
They finished the game with more of the ball, and the territory, a just-about better penalty count, and a better lineout. And still lost.
At half-time Munster would have been relieved to be trailing by just four points. They had spent 70 per cent of the first 40 minutes in their own half, and a good chunk of it in or around their own 22.
"Anytime in the first half we had possession and got into their half we turned it over whether it was Rory's (Scannell) break or Ronan (O'Mahony) went across the field and kicked it and didn't kick it well enough," Anthony Foley said. "The ball was turned over straight after that, and we never had sustained momentum in that first half. I thought in the second half we managed things a hell of a lot better."
It was very good discipline close to their own line that was keeping them in the game in that first period, despite being pounded around the sides by the Ulster pack, supplemented by the carrying of Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall. And still Paddy Jackson was given just one kick at goal - the conversion to Louis Ludik's try.
That score came on 24 minutes at a time when the Ulster fans were wondering if they would ever make a breakthrough. Having been on the back foot in the opening minutes, during which Keatley took three points from a penalty, they were overwhelmingly the dominant side.
But despite any number of perfect platforms they were falling short - the wrong man ending up carrying into a dead end, or else seeing possession kicked away - when at last the fullback got over after a stack of phases within 15 metres of the Munster line.
It wasn't as if Munster were transformed after the break - their lineout creaked at key times - but a lucky enough break on 58 minutes, where Ulster lost their own put-in to a scrum 20 metres out, gave them the opportunity for Keatley to pop into the pocket and take his three points.
Two minutes later he nailed a penalty off a lineout to give Munster a two-point lead. With 20 minutes to go the home team had plenty of time to do something about it, but Jackson missed a penalty from wide out when you would have thought they would nudge it to the corner and back their maul. His next chance would be the last gasp gift offered by Van den Heever. Not a great start to Jackson's New Year. For his opposite number however, 2015 is in the rear view mirror, and he will believe better things lie ahead.
Scorers - Munster: I Keatley 2 pens, dp gl; Ulster: Ludik try, Jackson con.
Ulster: L Ludik; A Trimble, L Marshall (S Arnold 55), S McCloskey, R Scholes; P Jackson, R Pienaar (P Marshall 72); K McCall (C Black 65), R Best (captW Herbst (R Lutton 36), L Stevenson (A O'Connor 53), F van der Merwe, R Diack (R Wilson 53), N Williams (R Herring 72), C Henry
Munster: L Amorosino; G van den Heever, F Saili, R Scannell (D Hurley 58), R O'Mahony; I Keatley, T O'Leary (D Williams 58); D Kilcoyne, M Sherry (N Scannell 57), BJ Botha (J Ryan 73), B Holland, M Chisholm, J O'Donoghue, CJ Stander (capt), T O'Donnell (R Copeland 57)
Referee: G Conway (IRFU)
Sunday Indo Sport