Munster edge Thomond thriller as they deny Ulster at the death
Munster 32-28 Ulster
Published 31/10/2015 | 02:30
Attendances at Thomond Park may not be what they once were but the 7,200 fans in Limerick last night were treated to a nine-try thriller.
Coming into the game, Ulster hadn't conceded a first-half try this season but they let Munster in three times - although they did score three themselves.
Both sides' defensive coaches have plenty of work to do, with the Champions Cup returning in a fortnight, but the first inter-pro of the season was certainly full value for entertainment.
Les Kiss will begin his role as Ulster's director of rugby on Monday and the former Ireland defence coach will know that his new side's leaky defence must be tightened if they are to end their trophy drought.
Munster almost paid for a bizarre error right at the death when Ian Keatley kicked the ball dead after the stadium clock had appeared to go past the 80 minutes but after consulting with his touch judge, referee Marius Mitrea ruled that there was still time left to play.
Ulster won their own scrum and went through the phases and but for a Gerhard van den Heever tackle wide on the left flank, Munster's 12-game unbeaten home run would have come to an end.
The visitors were ahead inside five minutes after Darren Cave snapped up a Francis Saili knock-on and found Craig Gilroy, who raced clear from just outside his own 22 to score.
Munster hit back through Andrew Conway, who went around Gilroy far too easily to dot down, with Keatley adding the extras.
Paddy Jackson had a difficult night with the boot in dreadful conditions for kickers but he added a penalty before Gilroy atoned for his error. Nick Williams made the initial carry before Ulster went through the phases, which resulted in Gilroy touching down in the corner for his fourth try of the season.
The momentum ebbed and flowed in a cracking first half and Munster responded with two tries in three minutes.
Simon Zebo and Keatley showed great hands and Robin Copeland breezed clear for a score that Keatley again converted.
The pick of the six first-half tries was van den Heever's just after the half-hour mark, as the South African flyer screeched clear of Andrew Trimble, who was caught flat-footed.
Ulster had the final say of the half with former Munster No 8 Williams crashing over from a rolling maul to cut the gap to 19-18.
Jackson momentarily put his kicking woes behind him with a brilliantly struck drop-goal six minutes after the restart but poor Ulster discipline soon allowed Keatley to restore the hosts' lead.
CJ Stander, who is now Irish qualified, forced three crucial turnovers with Munster camped in their own half and struggling against the strong breeze.
The third of Stander's turnovers allowed Munster their first foray into Ulster territory in the second half and they were clinical in how they took advantage.
Keatley put up a booming garryowen and the wind deceived Peter Nelson as he lost the aerial battle with van den Heever and knocked on to Denis Hurley, who had the easiest of tasks to score.
Keatley pushed his conversion wide from in front of the posts as Munster led 27-21 just after the hour.
Ulster heads dropped and Munster didn't need a second invitation to punish their lacklustre defence.
Tomas O'Leary, making his first start since rejoining Munster, spread the ball wide and the returning Zebo (went over in the corner.
Just as the game looked to be getting away from Ulster, replacement Dan Tuohy punished some slack Munster defending after Gilroy had made terrific ground.
Jackson's conversion left Ulster within a try of snatching the win heading into the final 10 minutes before the late drama.
Ulster flew back to Belfast with two bonus points while Munster climbed to second in the table for a few hours at least.
Munster - A Conway; G can der Heever, F Saili, D Hurley (R Scannell 71), S Zebo; I Keatley, T O'Leary; J Cronin (J Ryan 66), M Sherry (D Casey 56), BJ Botha; D Foley (D Ryan 50), M Chisholm; CJ Stander (capt), J O'Donoghue (J Coghlan 71), R Copeland.
Ulster - P Nelson; C Gilroy, D Cave, S McCloskey, A Trimble (S Arnold h/t); P Jackson, P Marshall; A Warwick (C Black 50), R Herring (capt), W Herbst (R Lutton 67); L Stevenson, F van der Merwe (D Tuohy 62); R Wilson, S Reidy (C Henry 53), N Williams.
Ref - M Mitrea (FIR)