A 75th minute drop-goal from centre Rory Scannell helped Munster come from behind to beat Ulster 15-14 at Kingspan Stadium on Friday.
Ulster dominated the early stages through a fine try by Charles Piutau, converted by Paddy Jackson, and the hosts were well in control of the contest for most of the first-half.
When replacement Rob Lyttle scored just before half-time, Ulster were in an excellent position to kick on, but Munster grabbed a foothold through their star man, Rory Scannell who scored with virtually the last act of the half.
Munster dominated territory and possession thereafter and their attacks were only kept out by a resolute and organised home defence.
Ulster could only resist for so long, however, and when Jaco Taute got over for the visitors’ second try on 63 minutes, converted by Scannell, the impetus was all with the Limerick men.
With Ulster grimly holding on in the final minutes, that man Scannell nailed a superb drop-goal to give the visitors the win their efforts deserved. Ulser, meanwhile, were left to rue what might have been.
Ulster made the perfect start on five minutes. A lovely Jackson chip in the visitors’ 22 was batted down by Jackson for Piutau to touch down for a well-worked Ulster try. The Irish fly-half converted to give them a 7-0 lead.
The hosts certainly had the better of it in the first ten minutes as the Ravenhill men won the early collisions. Keatley had a good chance to close the gap on 15 minutes, but the Munster pivot made an awful hash of his kick.
The Munster pack seized control thereafter, with forwards Peter O’Mahony and Billy Holland crashing over the gainline with concerted ferocity. The Thomond Park struggled to translate possession into points on the scoreboard, however. Although the Munster pack won a great deal of ball, the home defence coped admirably and were pretty adept at shutting down space.
But it was Ulster who struck next. Some sustained pressure in the visitors’ 22 on 35 minutes saw replacement Lyttle wriggle out of some weak Munster tackling to score under the posts. Jackson converted again to give Ulster a scarcely credible 14-0 lead.
But Munster deservedly struck back on the cusp on half-time when Scannell finished off some good Munster work in the corner. Keatley missed the conversion though, to leave Munster trailing 14-5 at the break.
Munster should have had the perfect start to the second period when Keatley was awarded a kickable penalty, but the Munster fly-half was again off-target with the attempt.
The Limerick men continued to have the better of it, however, and they scored next on 64 minutes when Taute barged over following a period of Munster dominance. Scannell converted to make it a two point game.
To be fair, the visitors were dominating possession at this stage, but the Ulster defence did a tremendous job in keeping them at bay. The Thomond Park men were by far the more fluid and they must have been perplexed by their inability to dominate a much more passive Ulster side.
However, Munster’s perseverance was rewarded on 75 minutes when Scannell coolly slotted a drop-goal to give the southern province a one-point lead.
Jackson seemed to have landed a lovely drop-goal of his own from long range a couple of minutes later, but agonisingly for Ulster, his effort drifted slightly wide. An Ulster win would have been a travesty, though, and Munster held on to secure a gritty and well deserved win.
Tries: Piutau, Lyttle
Cons: Jackson 2
Tries: Scannell, Taute
Ulster: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Darren Cave, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Dan Tuohy, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Rob Herring (c), 1 Callum Black
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Kyle McCall, 18 Andy Warwick, 19 Clive Ross, 20 Conor Joyce, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Brett Herron, 23 Rob Lyttle
Munster: 15 Andrew Conway, 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Jaco Taute, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Ronan O’Mahony, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 Jack O’Donoghue, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 Peter O’Mahony (c), 5 Billy Holland, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 John Ryan, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Dave Kilcoyne
Replacements: 16 Vincent O’Brien, 17 Brian Scott, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Darren O’Shea, 20 Robin Copeland, 21 Abriel Griesel, 22 Alex Wootton, 23 Dan Goggin
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Gwyn Morris (Wales), John Carvill (Ireland)
TMO: Tim Hayes (Wales)