Time is running out for Ulster to claim a place in the Pro12 semi-finals. We went minute-by-minute to see if they can match up to a Munster side with one eye on Saracens.
It’s easter weekend, and we’ve got some serious egg-shaped action in store today as Ireland’s four provinces collide.
First up, Ulster are in Limerick to take on Munster (kick-off 3pm, Sky Sports 3).
It’s the first of a teak tough run-in for the northern province as they must face each of the top three in their final three games.
Munster, of course, are close to securing a home Pro12 semi-final berth, but could be forgiven for being distracted seven days out from their Champions Cup clash with Saracens at the Aviva Stadium.
Munster have made two late changes and both at half-back.
Tyler Bleyendaal, having come through concussion protocols early last week, drops to the bench with Ian Keatley taking the reins.
Duncan Williams has been withdrawn from the 23, Angus Lloyd comes in to start at number nine with Abrie Griesel among the replacements.
15. Simon Zebo
14. Darren Sweetnam
13. Francis Saili
12. Rory Scannell
11. Keith Earls
10. Ian Keatley
9. Angus Lloyd
1. Dave Kilcoyne
2. Niall Scannell
3. John Ryan
4. Donnacha Ryan
5. Billy Holland
6. Peter O’Mahony (captain)
7. Tommy O’Donnell
8. Jack O’Donoghue
16. Rhys Marshall
17. James Cronin
18. Stephen Archer
19. Dave O’Callaghan
20. Jean Deysel
21. Abrie Griesel
22. Tyler Bleyendaal
23. Andrew Conway
15. Jacob Stockdale
14. Andrew Trimble (captain)
13. Luke Marshall
12. Stuart Olding
11. Charles Piutau
10. Paddy Jackson
9. Ruan Pienaar
1. Andrew Warwick
2. Rory Best
3. Wiehahn Herbst
4. Kieran Treadwell
5. Alan O’Connor
6. Iain Henderson
7. Chris Henry
8. Sean Reidy
16. Rob Herring
17. Callum Black
18. Rodney Ah You
19. Robbie Diack
20. Clive Ross
21. Paul Marshall
22. Stuart McCloskey
23. Craig Gilroy
Stand Up and Fight has been belted out, the teams are on the field. We’re ready for anything in the Limerick sunshine.
KICK-OFF: Plenty of spare red seats dotted around Thomond Park speaks to the sense that this game is being played very close to the Lord Mayor’s Show in Dublin next Saturday.
Keatley kicks into the Ulster 22. Ulster set up despite a decent Sweetnam carry.
Darren Sweetnam is off for treatment and holding his right arm a little gingerly. Conway on in his place.
Charles Piutau showed good vision and execution to kick into a lot of free space in the Munster 22. Decent chase from Ulster and Ian Keatley concedes the penalty under pressure.
TRY! Munster 0 Ulster 5 ( Rory Best ’4)
Terrific maul from Ulster, wasting no time off the line-out and captain fantastic is nestled at the back to dot down between the bodies.
Paddy Jackson nails the conversion from wide on the left.
Munster 0 Ulster 7
TRY! Munster 5 Ulster 7 (Angus Lloyd ’7)
Peter O’Mahony glides past Piutau and passes early to put himself in the middle of a three on two overlap.
Earls returns the ball to the captain and O’Mahony gives former Ulster recruit Lloyd the chance to step inside.
All the while Piutau is moving at little more than walking pace as he watches the attack.
Munster 7 Ulster 7
We might just have ourselves a shoot-out.
Darren Sweetnam, Sky Sports say, has failed a HIA and so Conway is a permanent replacement.
Oof! Lloyd’s try was bad news for Ulster, but the latest from Cardiff is that the Blues are 21 – 3 up against Ospreys.
Back to the matter at hand, Ulster attacking well on the back of Pienaar’s direction and force a penalty in the middle of the 22. Easy pickings for Jackson.
Penalty! Munster 7 Ulster 10 (Jackson ’14)
Glorious kick from Luke Marshall, lifts Zebo’s grubber to the 22 and with minimal angle he drills a right-footed kick all the way down the right touchline to pile some pressure on Munster.
Sky have just flashed the as it stands table with Ulster up to third place above Ospreys. Scarlets will play Dragons later today.
Henderson penalty, followed by smart play by Lloyd brings Munster off the hook and all the way back into Ulster territory.
Munster’s service from pack to nine has been sloppy. This time Jackson pounces on the loose bill and breaks 30 metres down field, making sure to keep Keith Earls twisting because he’s never going to win a straight race with him.
Penalty comes for Ulster as Billy Holland goes high on Stockdale.
Jackson’s kick at goal is missed and Piutau lets the restart drop between his hands. Munster are getting an easy ride from their visitors at the minute.
Luke Marshall breaks down the left and has Pienaar inside, but delays his pass a crucial two seconds too long and it goes behind the ‘Bok.
Penalty comes for Ulster for offside. They fancy the line-out, and the maul yields one more penalty.
Much better maul defence from the hosts this time around. Ulster heave, but the red wall breaks up the attacking set-piece and force a scrum.
Clive Ross comes in to face his native province as Chris Henry goes off injured.
Munster force another messy Ulster line-out as Treadwell can’t get a clean hand on the ball and a team-mate knocks on.
Really good period for Munster here before the break. They don’t need to go hell for leather, they’re just placing more and more doubt in Ulster’s minds the more they are stuck in their 22.
Pienaar’s pass to Olding is wild, but Stockdale bails them out with a decent clearance kick off the left.
Call him two-tackle-Andy!
Trimble races up to smash Simon Zebo. The Corkman got the ball away, but Trimble is just turning out of the colission when he finds Keith Earls within range. He hits him too and forces a choke tackle.
Brilliant Munster scrum wins a penalty and Keatley eats up the chance.
Penalty! Munster 10 Ulster 10 (Keatley ’36)
Olding with another handling issue (the first one wasn’t his fault, but this one was) and the hosts can mount the last attack of the half.
Fine pass from Scannell sends Conway roaring down the right. Munster come very close to scoring, but there are enough Ulster forwards to thwart them.
Marius Mitrea not happy with any of this series of scrums. We’re in the 44th minute of the half and five metres from the Ulster try-line.
HALF-TIME: Munster 10 Ulster 10
Ulster can let out a massive sigh of relief to get into the sheds level. They were in danger of collapsing under not very much pressure from the home side.
If Ulster need something to stir them, then Les Kiss could do worse than show them the 26 – 3 scoreline from Cardiff. Ospreys have a mountain to climb in the Principality.
We’re off and running in the second half.
Munster looking purposeful in attack, but Jacob Stockdale gets a boot to a loose pass and hares downfield after it. One good touch would have given him a try, but the ball skittered between his legs. Another let-off for the home side.
Jacob Stockdale thought he was making up for the error with a scything line and finish, but the pass from Luke Marshall was ruled forward.
Jean Deysel is on the field to pile some misery on Ulster. Jack O’Donoghue the man replaced.
Brilliant effort from Rory Best, powering his way through a ruck and ripping the ball from Lloyd. This game is still deadlocked and moments like that ( and men who’ll follow them up) will go a long way to swinging the result.
As it happens, both Best and Lloyd are called ashore after that ruck. Best for a HIA, Lloyd is replaced by Griesel.
Big Stu McCloskey is back and making mideifl bangs. He replaced Stu Olding and his influence instantly makes space for Trimble to raid.
The international is caught, but Munster concede a penalty on the scramble.
PENALTY! Munster 10 Ulster 13 (Jackson ’52)
Rory Best will remain off the field. Rob Herring will finish this one out for Ulster.
Tyler B is on for Munster. His cross-field kick to Conway is on the money, but Ulster attack the wing well and win a penalty to get back in Munster territory.
Piutau is a different man when he’s attacking compared to some of the limp efforts in defence. He carries into contact well, but the decent Ulster work is undone by, of all people, Ruan Pienaar who incinerates a tactical kick and puts it beyond the try-line.
Craig Gilroy is on in Piutau’s place. Can he add some energy and solidity to Ulster?
TRY! Munster 15 Ulster 13 (Earls ’61)
Absolutely brilliant try from Munster. Saili dances in and out of tackles before offloading to Earls who aggressively seeks the gap and dots down.
Tyler B misses the conversion, so Ulster still within a kick.
TRY! Munster 15 Ulster 18 ( Marshall ’65)
Ulster have reacted brilliantly since falling behind, suddenly realising that their season is on the line and the game is there for the taking. Excellent, powerful phaseplay brings them into the Munster 22 and Jackson punishes Saili for breaking out of the D line as he picks a pass for Luke Marshall who darts over.
Munster 15 Ulster 20
Rory Scannell looks in a bad way with Sarries just a week away. He’s helped off and Munster replace him with hooker Rhys Marshall.
Munster have responded in kind and trust their maul to get them back into this game, they force over the line. But not down yet.
TRY! Munster 20 Ulster 20 (Dave O’Callaghan ’70)
Bleyendaal on target this time around and Munster have the lead once more. Can Ulster find any more in their tank, or are they ready to let the season fizzle out?
Munster 22 Ulster 20
2013 revisited as Peter O’Mahony takes up a spot on the wing, but Ulster can’t take advantage. The line-out malfunctions.
Griesel invites pressure from Gilroy with a poor clearance kick, but makes up for it a phase later as he slaps the pill from Iain Henderson’s hands.
Time is at a massive premium for Ulster now.
Knock on at the base of the scrum.Now a chance for Ulster. Scrum on Munster 22. One minute on the clock.
They give it to big Stu and he powers into the 22. Will PJ take on the DG?
Ulster do look for Jackson, but he’s under a lot of pressure and over 35 metres out and his connection is less than pure.
FULL-TIME: Munster 22 Ulster 20
That about sums it up, Kristian.