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Ulster and Munster share the spoils after Pro12 thriller in Belfast

Paddy Jackson held his nerve with a last-gasp conversion to earn two points for Neil Doak’s men.

Ulster 23

Munster 23

Murray Kinsella reports from Kingspan Stadium

MUNSTER AND ULSTER claimed two points apiece after an enthralling 23-23 draw at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast, a game neither side deserved to lose.

Paddy Jackson kicks a penalty Jackson held his nerve at the death. Source: Presseye/William Cherry/INPHO

It took a superb conversion from Paddy Jackson wide on the left with the last action of the game to bring Ulster level, the impressive out-half adding the extras to Paul Marshall’s late try.

That Neil Doak’s men achieved the equalising score with only 14 men on the pitch following Iain Henderson’s red card in the 73rd minute made it all the more thrilling, particularly as Munster appeared to have sealed a win when Keith Earls dotted down with just four minutes left in Belfast.

It was the home side who played the more attractive rugby with ball in hand for large parts of the game, but Munster scored two tries to match Ulster, got the better of an intense scrum battle and also relied on the superb place-kicking of Ian Keatley, who missed just once from the tee.

This result means the Pro12 remains unchanged from the start of the day, with Munster remaining third and Ulster still sitting fourth.

Anthony Foley’s side host the Dragons next weekend as they hope for a home semi-final, while Ulster face a difficult trip to Glasgow Warriors.

An aggressive start from Munster drew a fifth-minute penalty when Jackson failed to roll away quickly enough for Nigel Owens’ liking, Keatley slamming over the 38-metre opportunity.

But Ulster swiftly recovered after a Denis Hurley knock-on in midfield, Jackson standing out as a prompting playmaker and Jared Payne running some intelligent, teasing lines at Munster’s midfield.

Paddy Jackson with Jack O'Donoghue Jackson was a creative presence throughout. Source: Presseye/William Cherry/INPHO

Doak’s men blew a chance with 11 minutes gone having worked the ball to the outside edge superbly. Louis Ludik’s pass was behind Bowe, but the Ireland wing had overrun it in his eagerness to break. Bowe would have opportunity to rectify his error later.

Munster’s defence soaked up the pressure against the aesthetically-pleasing Ulster attack time and again and Keatley managed to add two further penalties as Foley’s men used their possession economically.

First Owens signalled a scrum penalty as Callum Black drove in on the loosehead side, and then Henderson gave away a needless one as he came in the side of a ruck. Keatley punished both.

Henderson could be forgiven, having saved what looked like a certain Keith Earls try just before the quarter mark. Jackson had thrown a loose offload with space beckoning for Ulster, Earls claiming the ball and hacking forward before burning Rory Best.

Earls got a second delicate touch to nudge the ball over the Ulster tryline, but Henderson had sprinted back from 50 metres out to jostle with Earls and force the Munster man to knock-on over the dead ball line. A sensational defensive play.

It looked that Munster were heading for the break at 9-0, but Ulster’s influence finally told on the scoreboard. First Chris Henry’s counter-rucking forced Conor Murray to knock on, bringing about the scrum at which Ulster claimed a penalty.

Jackson slotted that one, then Henderson produced the most sublime of offloads to set Bowe up for a memorable try. Having been afforded time and space in the wide right channel 40 metres out, Henderson invited Ronan O’Mahony – on for the injured Simon Zebo – to bite in as CJ Stander also looked to tackle him.

Tommy Bowe scores a try despite Keith Earls Bowe finished off a wonderful Ulster try in the first half. Source: Presseye/William Cherry/INPHO

The dynamic Ulster blindside then popped off a sublime one-handed, back-door offload to the trailing Bowe, who tuned his athleticism to 100% and burned around the covering Murray and Jones, then beat Earls to dive over and score.

Jackson added the additional two to the delight of the Belfast crowd and for a 10-9 Ulster lead at the interval.

Keatley wandered offside early in the second half to allow Jackson to continue his excellent game with a second penalty of the afternoon. Munster were resolute, however, as Paul O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony and the abrasive CJ Stander continued to carry heartily.

Replacement back row Robbie Diack’s failure to roll clear post-tackle afforded Keatley his fourth shot at goal of the afternoon, and the Ireland-capped out-half had no problems from underneath the posts.

Some titanic scrummaging from Munster then saw Keatley put the southern province into the lead, as his pack first forced Ulster to knock-on at the base of their own scrum with a huge eight-man counter-shove.

That was followed by another unified drive that led to Owens awarding the penalty and Keatley making it 15-13.

Ulster’s attack continued to please the eye, but again failed to produce an end result when Bowe scorched through on a clever switch line inside Ruan Pienaar at the tail of a lineout.

Ian Keatley kicks a penalty Keatley's place kicking was vital for Munster. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

This time, Bowe looked to pop a blind pass to Henry on his right shoulder but 10 metres out from Munster’s line, the ball flew loose and Ulster knocked-on in the scramble to regather.

Foley’s men extended their lead with just over 10 minutes remaining, sub wing Paul Marshall penalised for what Owens perceived to be an illegal challenge on Earls in the air.

From wide on the right, Keatley held onto his 100% success rate, though Jackson did the same soon after when punishing the impressive John Ryan for coming offside in midfield. 10 minutes remaining, the game was poised at 18-16 in Munster’s favour.

Bowe continued to threaten, chipping into the Munster 22 and hounding Jones into a knock-on, but the advantage was short-lived as Dan Tuohy opted to attempt a grubber when Ulster shifted the ball wide to the left.

Not only was it a wasted try-scoring chance for Ulster, but that same passage of play brought them a red card. Assistant referee Nigel Correll brought potential foul play to Owens’ attention, the Welshman heading to his TMO for a review.

Ruling that Henderson had cleared Ronan O’Mahony out with his head, Owens and Kevin Beggs viewed it as a red-card offence and sent the Ireland international off.

Munster took swift advantage of having the extra man, working space for Keith Earls wide on the right in the closing minutes. The impressive wing stepped back inside the despairing tackle attempt of Ludik to score and seal what looked like being a Munster win.

But Ulster fought back in the final passage of the game, firing one last attacking thrust as first Payne went within inches of dotting down before Jackson fired a powerful skip pass to Marshall wide on the left.

The scrum-half turned wing dotted down, but Jackson was left with a conversion just metres in from the touchline. With Joe Schmidt watching on, he bisected the uprights.

Ulster scorers:

Tries: Tommy Bowe, Paul Marshall

Conversions: Paddy Jackson [2 from 2]

Penalties: Paddy Jackson [3 from 3]

Munster scorers:

Tries: Keith Earls

Conversions: Ian Keatley [0 from 1]

Penalties: Ian Keatley [6 from 6]

ULSTER: Louis Ludik; Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne, Darren Cave (Stuart McCloskey ’56), Peter Nelson ( Paul Marshall ’64); Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; Callum Black (Andrew Warwick ’61), Rory Best (capt.), Wiehahn Herbst (Bronson Ross ’52); Franco van der Merwe, Dan Tuohy; Iain Henderson (RC ’74), Chris Henry, Roger Wilson (Robbie Diack ’30).

Replacements not used: Rob Herring, Clive Ross, Ian Humphreys.

MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Keith Earls, Andrew Smith, Denis Hurley, Simon Zebo (Ronan O’Mahony ’27); Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne (John Ryan ’40), Eusebio Guinazu, Stephen Archer (BJ Botha ’49); Donnacha Ryan, Paul O’Connell; Peter O’Mahony (capt.), Tommy O’Donnell (Jack O’Donoghue ’4), CJ Stander.

Replacements not used: Duncan Casey, Billy Holland, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan.

Referee: Nigel Owens [WRU]

Attendance: 17, 139.

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