JJ HANRAHAN HAD a late effort to steal the victory for Munster, but in truth that would have meant the better side losing.
Ulster’s team selection this week was questioned, as Mark Anscombe opted to give some of this fringe players and youngsters a start in Thomond Park. How those same players stepped up to the mark in Limerick though, fighting for every scrap against more experienced opponents.
Rob Penney will trust in his side’s ability to motivate themselves for the biggest occasions as they face into a semi-final against the ominously in-form Glasgow next weekend. If Munster’s abject physical and technical performance of tonight is repeated in Scotstoun, they will exit the competition.
21-year-old centre Stuart McCloskey, recently named the province’s Academy Player of the Year, was impressive for Ulster alongside Michael Allen in midfield, while out-half James McKinney, destined for the Rotherham Titans next season, was composed in all aspects of play.
In the scrum, Andrew Warwick provided another promising display, while Michael Heaney was sharp at scrum-half.
However, picking out individuals is folly after a rounded team performance full of in-contact aggression and smart tactical play. While Anscombe’s starting XV will be very different for next weekend’s clash with Leinster, this is a major confidence boost for the squad.
Ulster were initially rocked by a strong opening quarter from the home side, with Ian Keatley slotting an 11th-minute penalty and then scrum-half Duncan Williams crossing after smart play from Casey Laulala, Keatley, James Downey and James Coughlan.
Keatley’s conversion left Munster 10-0 to the good after just 16 minute, but Ulster found an instantaneous reply through the try of lively number nine Heaney.
Darting down the vacated blindside from a ruck just inside the Munster half, the 23-year-old exchanged passes with wing Michael Allen and stretched over despite the despairing tackles of Laulala and Felix Jones.
McKinney converted and at 10-7 Ulster took confidence, growing into the game through their physical defence and probing attacking surges. A penalty from the out-half just before the break left the scores tied at 10-10 heading into the second half.
Again, Munster started strongly, powering into a promising position, before a moment of quality from Ian Keatley allowed Sean Dougall to score.
The Munster playmaker prodded a grubber in behind the Ulster defence, and with the ball bobbling towards the in-goal area, Dougall was sharpest in reacting and scooping the pill before dotting down.
Keatley promptly converted on the 50 minute mark, but that was to be the final score of the game for Penney’s side. McKinney held his nerve with two further penalty attempts in the blustery conditions, squeezing Ulster ahead with 15 minutes remaining.
From there, Anscombe’s charges dealt with everything Munster threw at them, until the very death, when hands in the scrum allowed Hanrahan a shot at goal from the halfway line.
The replacement out-half drilled his effort wide to the left and Ulster’s celebrations erupted. A knee injury to Nick Williams was the only major blot on the night.
Tries: D Williams, S Dougall
Conversions: I Keatley 
Penalty: I Keatley
Try: M Heaney
Conversion: J McKinney
Penalties: J McKinney 
MUNSTER: Felix Jones, Gerhard Van Den Heever, Casey Laulala, James Downey, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley (JJ Hanrahan), Duncan Williams (Conor Murray); Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin), Damien Varley (capt.), John Ryan; Dave Foley (Billy Holland), Paul O’Connell; Paddy Butler, Sean Dougall, James Coughlan (Tommy O’Donnell).
Replacements not used: Quentin MacDonald, Alan Cotter.
ULSTER: Craig Gilroy; David McIlwaine, Mike Allen, Stuart McCloskey, Rory Scholes; James McKinney, Michael Heaney (David Shanahan); Callum Black, Rob Herring (Kyle McCall), Andrew Warwick (Adam Macklin); Lewis Stevenson, Dan Tuohy (capt.) (Neil McComb); Mike McComish, Sean Doyle, Nick Williams (Conor Joyce).
Replacements not used: Bronson Ross, Ricky Andrew, Peter Nelson.