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Tuesday 31 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
James Crombie/INPHO James Hume and Rory Scannell compete.
Ulster pip Munster to record their first win at Thomond Park in eight years
Munster lost 15-14 to Ulster in the URC this evening.

MUNSTER 14

ULSTER 15

THIS WAS A statement from Ulster, not just a result. Having not won at Thomond Park since May 2014, they landed in Limerick with the intention of securing their status as Ireland’s No2 ranked team.

And they got what they came for.

Three first-half tries, the maul the primary source of each score, proved critical in determining the game’s outcome, yet they weren’t the only factors. From Munster, the penalty count was too high in the first half, their generous provision of access to their 22 having a huge impact.

So did Tom Stewart. The young Ulster hooker is not even first-choice with his province but the way he’s developing, he could force his way into Andy Farrell’s World Cup squad next October. Yes, he’s that good, assured with his throws, dynamic with his carries, electric with his pace, busy putting in 15 tackles.

If he’s one to look out for, then Billy Burns is one to remember. The Ulster out-half’s Ireland career never recovered from that failure to find touch against Wales way back in February 2021. Here he found everything he was looking for, including one majestic 50:22.

Why stop there? The Jordi Murphy revival began tonight. Plagued by injury, he got a fine first-half try; a couple of turnovers and a reminder to anyone watching he isn’t finished yet. Nor is Duane Vermuelen, even if the Springboks ignored him for this year’s November series. At this level, he remains a force. It was his 80th minute turnover which secured this win.

Beyond the individual excellence, there was a tactical maturity to Ulster’s play. They had the wind behind them in the first half so they kept things simple, kicking to the corners whenever they won penalties, overlooking an easy three points because they trusted their maul to deliver more.

They were dead right to have such belief. Within four minutes they had their opening try, Murphy with it, their physicality marrying with technique at the set-piece. Nine minutes later they had another, this one scored by Stewart, who peeled off the maul to drive across the line.

Unusually, Nathan Doak missed both conversions – he’d also be off target with his third attempt – and with Jack Crowley landing an eighth minute penalty following a Vermuelen infringement, you always felt that Munster could get something from this match if they got to half-time with just a score between them.

That was how it seemed the half would pan out.

In fact, it could have looked even better for Munster had their handling been a little cleaner, their lineouts a bit sharper. Those errors aside, they did certain things well. Dave Kilcoyne won a scrum penalty off Marty Moore – few can make that boast – and at times their ball retention was tidy as they played into a gale.

Then there was young Edwin Edogbo, their 19-year-old lock. He produced a brilliant rob when Ulster threatened the line and also came up with another steal later in the half.

And yet Munster returned to the dressing room at half-time with regret. For a start, there was a moment when Diarmuid Barron overshot the runway with a lineout five metres from the Ulster line, a time when they could have done with a score.

Then there was a fine back move that took them to the right wing, Shane Daly’s, side of the pitch, with Patrick Campbell and Mike Haley showing subtle touches before Malakai Fekitoa released Daly. Continuing his run inside, Fekitoa was screaming for a return pass. But it never came. Ulster survived. Munster counted the cost.

Fortunately for them Ulster had a try wiped out on 35 minutes – again after a maul drive brought them close to the line – before David McCann got across it. However, in the build-up, Doak was guilty of knocking the ball on.

Reprieved, Munster needed composure to get to half-time. Instead they were reduced to 14 players for a spell when Fekitoa’s shoulder made contact with McCann’s face. A yellow card resulted.

malakai-fekitoa Dan Sheridan / INPHO Malakai Fekitoa goes off with a yellow. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

So, subsequently, did another Ulster try, the penalty leading to a maul, the maul leading to Stewart powering towards the line, Doak making a further attempt to get across it, Alan O’Connor spotting space to his right, Burns further exploiting that space, James Hume profiting from it, Ulster scoring, Ulster leading 15-3 at half-time.   

You would never have guessed then what was coming down the tracks.

Munster started to click, bossing the majority of the second half, deservedly cutting the gap to just one point, as Crowley kicked two more penalties and Daly got across for a try, one that Crowley and replacement Simon Zebo created.

There was more. Ulster were guilty of not managing their lead, of making errors in the backfield, but in a one point game, we have to remember not to overpraise the winners at the expense of those who were just shy of a draw.

Credit Munster for building pressure, for being much the superior team in the third quarter especially, but also the fourth, for cutting down their error count, for reacting to the passionate vocal support of their crowd, for getting a try that had a touch of class about it, for turning this game into a thrilling one.

They could have won it. When Ulster’s Cormac Izuchukwu cynically stopped Alex Kendellen taking a quick penalty on 62 minutes, they had a man advantage for 10 minutes and exploited those numbers to get their try, Zebo darting diagonally across the turf to create space for Daly, who finished well in the corner.

The difficult angle didn’t suit Crowley. His conversion attempt came off the post. Another couple of inches and Munster would have been ahead. So they leave with regrets and just one point but also having proven a point. These kids they are trusting, Crowley, Kendellen and Edogbo, are worth persisting with.

Munster scorers

Tries: Daly

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Conversions: Crowley (0/1)

Penalties: Crowley (3/3)

Ulster scorers

Tries: Murphy, Stewart, Hume

Conversions: Doak (0/3)

Penalties:

Munster: Mike Haley, Shane Daly, Malakai Fekitoa, Rory Scannell, Patrick Campbell (rep: Simon Zebo ’61), Jack Crowley, Paddy Patterson (rep: Neil Cronin ’69), Dave Kilcoyne (rep: Josh Wycherley ’59), Diarmuid Barron (rep: Niall Scannell ’59-69), John Ryan (rep: Roman Salanoa ’59), Edwin Edogbo, Eoin O’Connor (rep: Cian Hurley ’50), Jack O’Donoghue (CAPT), John Hodnett, Alex Kendellen

Replacements not used: Evan O’Connell, Ben Healy

Ulster: Stewart Moore, Ben Moxham, James Hume, Luke Marshall (rep: Angus Curtis ’41), Ethan McIlroy, Billy Burns, Nathan Doak (rep: John Cooney ’43), Andy Warwick (rep: Rory Sutherland ’41), Tom Stewart (rep: John Andrew ’59), Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor (CAPT), Sam Carter (rep: Cormac Izuchukwu ’54 – yellow card 62-72), David McCann (rep: Matty Rea ’52), Jordi Murphy, Duane Vermeulen

Replacements not used:  Craig Gilroy, Gareth Milasinovich

Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU)

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