Ulster fought back from 14-3 down to defeat previously unbeaten Munster 21-14 in the United Rugby Championship at Kingspan Stadium on Friday.
Tries in either half from Jacob Stockdale and Nick Timoney helped the hosts pick up a valuable victory on home soil.
On a night when hooker Rob Herring made his record breaking 230th Ulster appearance, their bench had the edge in a closely-fought game with Herring joined by Iain Henderson, John Cooney and new cap Scott Wilson in having a big impact in the second half.
Nathan Doak contributed a conversion and three penalties to securing the win with Ulster’s defence holding firm in a pulsating finish to the game.
Craig Casey scored two tries in the first half for reigning URC champions Munster, with Jack Crowley converting both.
Casey scuttled over the Ulster line after just eight minutes after Munster had turned the screw on the home team’s scrum and forced several penalties.
Then on Ulster’s first visit to Munster’s line, Ethan McIlroy collided heavily with Shane Daly resulting in the Ulster player’s enforced departure and a yellow card for the visiting full-back.
The resulting penalty was slotted by Doak to get Ulster off the mark, but four minutes later 14-man Munster scored their second try as Casey again went over from close range.
On 26 minutes, Ulster finally produced an attack of note when Billy Burns’ cross-kick was collected by Stockdale who made the corner. Doak just missed the conversion from the difficult angle.
The half ended with no further score, though Ulster nearly put Stockdale away again, and the teams trooped off with Munster leading 14-8.
The new half was six minutes old when Munster were penalised within range of their posts and Doak kicked his second penalty to cut the visitors’ lead to three points.
Then three minutes after the hour, Doak nailed another penalty to tie things up after Munster were penalised for being offside following a strong carry from new cap Wilson.
Ulster, with subs Henderson and Herring making an impact, then cranked up the pressure and from a scrum, Timoney surged over the Munster line on 68 minutes to give the hosts the lead for the first time. Doak added an excellent conversion.
The home team then held out as Munster threw everything at their line, Herring winning the final turnover to secure the result.
The Bulls climbed to the top of the United Rugby Championship table after handing Cardiff a third defeat from four in an 18-12 win at the Arms Park.
Two tries in as many minutes midway through the first-half earned the South Africans a lead they were never to lose and set them on course for a second win over Welsh opposition this season, having comfortably beaten Scarlets in their opening match.
The home side were first onto the attack and tested the Bulls defence with a near 20 phase effort on and around the 22. The South Africans stayed strong and then went on to break the deadlock in the 11th minute with a try out of nothing.
It began with centre Stedman Gans getting the ball free out of contact, enabling midfield partner David Kriel to chip ahead where scrum-half Embrose Papier picked up and raced over.
Sebastian de Klerk then picked off an attempted pass 60 metres out by Tinus de Beer and raced in unopposed under the posts for a second Bulls score.
Wales World Cup wing Mason Grady got Cardiff back into the game when he was worked over for a try in the left corner midway through the half.
Cardiff head coach Matt Sherratt had asked his backs to be braver than they had been in the defeat against the Scarlets the previous weekend, and it was De Beer who orchestrated a wrap around move that eventually created the space for Grady’s score.
The Bulls introduced number eight Cameron Hanekom at the start of the second half, giving on-looking Wales head coach Warren Gatland a sneak peek, and started the second half with a bang.
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) November 10, 2023
They thundered into the home 22 and picked up a penalty that Chris Smith put over to extend their lead three minutes after the restart.
Moments later, his opposite number Rey Lee-Lo picked up at the base of a ruck on the Bulls 22 and simply sprinted through a giant defensive hole to score a try under the posts.
With De Beer’s simple conversion, the gap was cut to three points with 26 minutes to play but Smith’s 61st-minute penalty stretched the lead and Bulls held on.
Zebre Parma secured a first win since April 2022 after a nail-biting 12-10 United Rugby Championship victory over the Sharks at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.
The Italian outfit had lost a record 28 games since that victory over Dragons and were indebted to three penalties from the boot of full-back Geronimo Prisciantelli and a further one from Jacopo Trulla.
The Sharks crossed for the only try of the game from Cameron Wright with Boeta Chamberlain tagging on the conversion and adding a penalty, but it was not enough to deny the hosts.
Defeat extends a poor start to the season from Sharks, who have now lost all four of their opening games and scored only six tries in the process and have yet to record a point as they sit rooted to the foot of the table.