Ulster fly-half Ian Humphreys missed a crucial last-minute conversion to hand Munster a 21-20 Guinness PRO12 win at Thomond Park.
Ulster fly-half Ian Humphreys missed a crucial last-minute conversion to hand Munster a 21-20 victory at Thomond Park.
Munster leapfrogged provincial rivals Ulster as the Pro12’s second and third placed teams faced off in Limerick.
Tries from Irish international Robin Copeland, and the magnificent Duncan Williams helped Munster gain the edge in this bruising and physical encounter.
It was actually Ulster that made the running in the first half through four Humphreys penalties, giving the Ravenhill men a slender half-time lead. But the hosts absolutely blitzed their opponents in the second half with a superb demonstration of dynamic, and powerful rugby.
Remarkably Ulster managed to withstand the onslaught, and seemed to have sneaked it right at the end through a late try from Nick Williams, but that would have been a travesty; and there’s no doubt Munster thoroughly deserved their win.
It was Ulster that started more brightly, with the Ravenhill men going through the phases in the first couple of minutes. And the early pressure yielded a reward on three minutes when Munster skipper Donncha O’Callaghan was penalised. Humphreys slotted the penalty to give his side a 0-3 lead.
But Munster responded well, and built pressure of their own through half-backs Keatley, and Williams. And with the Limerick men encamped on Ulster’s line, Wiehahn Herbst conceded a penalty on the seven-minute mark for not rolling away.
Keatley missed the relatively easy penalty attempt, however, to leave Ulster narrowly ahead. On 10 minutes, Humphreys doubled that lead with another sweetly struck kick. The home side seemed to have come slowly out of the blocks, and when they conceded yet another penalty on 13 minutes, Humphreys made no mistake to make it 0-9 to the Belfast side.
The men in red were certainly on the back foot by the end of the fist quarter, and it was particularly surprising to see Ulster’s dominance at scrum time.
The visiting pack won another penalty on 19 minutes, and yet again Humphreys did the needful. But the hosts refused to panic, and came back strongly. Keatley was able to claw back three points for Munster to make it 3-12 on 23 minutes, when Craig Gilroy got pinged for a high tackle in the Munster 22.
The game had now picked up in terms of intensity, as evidenced by a scuffle between O’Callaghan and Nick Williams on 27 minutes, but it was more handbags at dawn than anything else.
From the ensuing penalty, though, the men in red marched straight back up field, and a lovely run from winger Ronan O’Mahony nearly cut the Ulster defence in two. From there, the ball was recycled in Ulster’s 22, and some weak defence saw Irish blindside Copeland get over in the corner.
Keatley missed the conversion to leave it 8-12. By the end of an absorbing first half, the hosts had regained the momentum, but Ulster would have been unhappy not to make more of their excellent start.
It was the Munster men that made the better start to the second period, with the intensity increased markedly from the first. And the inevitable happened on 43 minutes when Williams got over for a try in the left hand corner for the hosts.
Following a good Munster scrum in the visitors’ 22, the scrum half spotted a gap down the blind side, and managed to get over after evading a poor tackle from opposite number, Paul Marshall. Keatley converted to give his side a 15-12 lead.
The impetus was now firmly with the hosts, and when Ulster infringed again on 51 minutes Keatley extended the lead to 18-12. Such was the level of Munster’s superiority; the visitors were struggling to get their hands on the ball. And it got even better for Munster on 54 minutes when Irish fly-half Keatley bagged another three points.
With the hosts well in control, they seemed to have wrapped the game up on 62 minutes when JJ Hanrahan grounded the ball following a wonderful chip by Keatley, but the TMO decreed that the fullback failed to control the football.
Ulster were definitely under the cosh, but to be fair to them they continued to compete and Humphreys managed to cut Munster’s lead to six points on 71 minutes when Munster replacement Stephen Archer obstructed in the lineout.
Amazingly for a contest that Munster had dominated in the second half, Ulster were within a whisker of an unlikely victory. With the hosts down to 14 men, Ulster then launched a series of mauls.
The hosts repelled the first of these, as Roger Wilson seemed to have got over. But Ulster made amends just seconds later when big Williams barged over from close quarters on the 79-minute mark.
With the hard work having been done, Humphreys incredibly missed the routine conversion to leave it 21-20. Munster were delighted to have secured the win they undoubtedly deserved, but Ulster will rue Humphreys’ sloppy late miss.
Tries: Copeland, Williams
Pens: Keatley 3
Yellow Card: Archer
Pens: Humphreys 5
Munster: 15 JJ Hanrahan, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Pat Howard, 12 Denis Hurley, 11 Ronan O’Mahony, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Paddy Butler, 6 Robin Copeland, 5 Billy Holland; 4 Donncha O’Callaghan (c), 3 BJ Botha, 2 Duncan Casey, 1 John Ryan.
Replacements: 16 Kevin O’Byrne, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Tommy O’Donnell, 20 Sean Dougall, 21 Neil Cronin, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 Felix Jones.
Ulster: 15 Stuart Olding, 14 Louis Ludik, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Ian Humphreys, 9 Paul Marshall, 8 Nick Williams; 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Roger Wilson, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Declan Fitzpatrick, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Robbie Diack, 21 Michael Heaney, 22 Michael Allen, 23 Peter Nelson.
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Gary Conway (Ireland), Paul Haycock (Ireland)
TMO: Kevin Beggs (Ireland)