Baloucoune try the difference as Ulster do enough to see off Munster
Ulster 19 Munster 12
ROBERT Baloucoune scored the clinching, second try of a poor game in Belfast but some may argue that the fact he was on the field to do so reflected an even poorer decision from referee Sean Gallagher.
Only 11 seconds had elapsed when Ulster's exuberant winger cynically took Darren Sweetnam in the air from the restart. Harsher judges might have wielded a more severe punishment. Then again, this is the season for charity; inexperienced referee Gallagher offered mercy.
His 65th-minute try would have stung the small pocket of away fans; that a near full-strength Ulster side were still struggling to put away a second-string Munster salted the wounds.
However, his extended penalty advantage at the death did allow weakened Munster to thieve a consoling bonus point. They took it and ran out of town.
Ulster should realistically have been targeting their own bonus; a disappointingly flat performance didn't deserve it.
Munster were committed but limited, understandably so; there were less excuses for Ulster who came into this tie in fine form and with a full-strength team.
A flurry of seasonal handbags indicated that the derby fever endures despite the cosmopolitan nature of the sides. Ulster's starting 15 contained just two locally-born players; less than half of Munster's side hailed from the province.
Despite their callow appearance, the early defensive endeavours from Munster were energetic – a scrum penalty spawned another joust of manly exuberance. Ian Nagle, once of Munster, and Sam Arnold, once of Ulster, were keen to remind each other of their new allegiances.
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Will Addison broke the line to allow JJ Hanrahan to squeak an early lead for Munster from the tee. The night was perfect for rugby but the day had not been; there were spillages aplenty, mainly from Ulster, with Munster's line speed impressive in imposing pressure.
There was much space to play; trouble was, neither side had the wit or composure to find it. The game needed a spark and one of the sparkiest players on the field, Will Addison, provided it and, eventually, Ulster with their opening score.
Profiting from a Mike Haley spillage, Ulster recycled on halfway from left to right and Addison, one of the year's breakthrough stars, burned Arno Botha on the outside and then met a phalanx of non-threatening red defenders.
He couldn't make it all the way though; David Shanahan was tackled brilliantly by Conor Oliver and neither could Henry Speight collect a Billy Burns' cross-kick while playing with an advantage following a high shot that had ultimately thwarted Addison's snaking, scything run.
However, the kick to the corner came up trumps; captain Rob Herring finding himself dotting down before it seemed Munster had thought about defending the maul.
With John Cooney temporarily off the field after smacking his head off Jean Kleyn's formidable frame, Billy Burns converted the 33rd-minute score to settle his side's nerves as they headed in for tea; the crowd might have thirsted for something a wee bit stronger.
If anything, the errors multiplied after the break. Intensity remained high, quality stubbornly low. Addison's high tackle on JJ Hanrahan allowed Munster to close the gap to 7-6 in the 52nd minute, aided by Marcell Coetzee's dissent.
Enter captain Rory Best to rouse his side and the crowd; his side remained frantic in their endeavours despite the mounting pressure and his first scrum resulted in a Munster penalty.
Rare away attacks were mostly stifled with ease as the unforgiving stalemate ensued.
Shanahan provided some colour and his line-break – Jean Kleyn grasping at air – created the breathing space as Ulster's offloading game belatedly clicked. Best's super pass from the tackle was particularly prominent to help shift the point of attack.
Ironically, Baloucoune received the final scoring pass, some 65 minutes after his night might have been ended.
Consolation for him; little for Munster. Bill Johnston skidded a 66th-minute penalty for 14-9. Life in the away side but Ulster slowly sucked it from them.
Shanahan added a third from a lineout maul close in as Munster wilted with four minutes left. Munster ended the game looking for a bonus point and got it from the final play, thanks to an extended penalty advantage. Small comfort.
Ulster – L Ludik (J Hume 52, J McPhilips 68); H Speight, W Addison, S McCloskey, R Baloucoune; B Burns, J Cooney (D Shanahan 25); E O'Sullivan (K McCall 56, O'Sullivan 74), R Herring capt (R Best 52), M Moore (R Kane 56); I Nagle, K Treadwell; S Reidy (N Timoney 60), J Murphy, M Coetzee.
Munster – M Haley (B Johnston 57); D Sweetnam, S Arnold, J Taute (capt), A Wootton; JJ Hanrahan (S Daly 63), A Mathewson (N Cronin 55); J Loughman (D Kilcoyne 56), K O'Byrne (M Sherry 65), S Archer (C Parker 67); J Kleyn (G Coombes 66), D O'Shea; F Wycherley, C Olive (T O'Donnell 55)r, A Botha.
Ref – Sean Gallagher (IRFU)