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Ulster sustain streak with drab inter-pro win over Munster

Ulster scored two first-half tries, but were unable to build their way to a bonus point. Instead, Munster grabbed a late losing bonus.

Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Ulster 15

Munster 10

ULSTER MAINTAINED THEIR unbeaten record in the Guinness PRO14 alive at the expense of Munster’s as the northern province held on for a scrappy and forgettable 15-10 inter-provincial win in the biting cold at Kingspan Stadium.

First half tries from Matt Faddes and Ethan McIlroy saw the hosts over the line to make it 10 wins from 10 and ensure they started the new year in the win column, but a try with the final play of the game from Darren Sweetnam saw the visitors escape with a crucial bonus point despite seeing their own winning run ended.

But this inter-pro was far from a classic as neither side found much fluidity with ball in hand, and instead Ulster will probably come away the more disappointed side, especially after watching Ireland full-back Jacob Stockdale limp off late on, which will surely concern Andy Farrell as well.

The opening few minutes had promised so much, too, and the first try was only seven minutes in coming, arriving after an opening salvo dominated by the hosts, another beautifully executed first-phase set-piece score seeing James Hume’s perfectly timed pass set Stockdale through the gap, and the full-back fed Faddes for the five-pointer.

Ben Healy responded shortly after for the visitors, knocking over a penalty in reply, but they were doing themselves few favours with their error count, and it was from an early engagement on their own scrum that Ulster’s second try came.

This time Burns was heavily involved, getting the hosts front foot ball with a brilliant surge inside the 22, before the fly-half then spotted Ethan McIlroy lurking unmarked on the wing and delivered the perfectly weighted crossfield kick for the Academy winger to notch his second try in an Ulster jersey.

It wasn’t just in attack that the 20-year-old was impressive either, it was in defence too, and it was his excellent last-ditch tackle on Shane Daly as Munster threatened to cross for the first time on the half-hour mark that kept the visitors from pulling themselves closer.

Instead, Cooney knocked over a penalty just before the break to extend Ulster’s lead further, but after the restart things took a turn for the decidedly worse.

Initially, Ulster looked the more likely to break the second half deadlock after introducing Springbok flanker Marcell Coetzee and giving loosehead prop Callum Reid his debut, and it looked even more likely when Munster skipper Billy Holland saw yellow for sacking a maul just short of the line when under pressure.

But the hosts couldn’t take advantage and instead it nearly fell to Healy to score the only points of the sin bin period, only for his long-range penalty to skim the wrong side of the right hand post in one of his last involvements before Johann van Graan gave Jack Crowley his debut with 13 minutes to play.

Likewise, Dan McFarland handed Nathan Doak, the son of former Ireland scrum-half Neil, the same amount of time in relief of John Cooney, but the scrum-half spent most of his time on the pitch defending as Munster laid seige to the Ulster line in search of that key try to hand them a losing bonus points for their efforts.

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stuart-mccloskey-with-jack-crowley Jack Crowley with Stuart McCloskey. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

They were aided when Reid received his marching orders for a scrum infringement, and the score did indeed come with the final play of the game, replacement Sweetnam gathering a loose ball and diving over after the visitors were held up over the line twice to earn them a valuable point in Conference B.

If that wasn’t frustrating enough for McFarland, seeing Stockdale have to be helped off shortly before Sweetnam’s try will only leave a sourer taste in his mouth tonight. A win, but not a convincing one by any stretch of the imagination.

Scorers

Ulster

Tries: Faddes, McIlroy
Con: Cooney
Pen: Cooney

Munster

Try: Sweetnam
Con: Crowley
Pen: Healy

Ulster: Jacob Stockdale (Ben Moxham 78); Matt Faddes, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Ethan McIlroy; Billy Burns (Ian Madigan 73), John Cooney (Nathan Doak 67); Eric O’Sullivan (Callum Reid 49), Rob Herring (Adam McBurney 74), Marty Moore (Tom O’Toole 53); Kieran Treadwell, Sam Carter (David O’Connor 67); Matty Rea (Marcell Coetzee 48), David McCann, Nick Timoney.

Yellow card: Callum Reid (80′)

Munster: Shane Daly; Calvin Nash (Darren Sweetnam 71), Dan Goggin, Rory Scannell, Liam Coombes; Ben Healy (Jack Crowley 67), Craig Casey (Nick McCarthy 67); Liam O’Connor (Dave Kilcoyne 53), Niall Scannell (Rhys Marshall 53), John Ryan (Roman Salanoa 69); Fineen Wycherley, Billy Holland; Jack O’Donoghue, Chris Cloete (Thomas Ahern 71), Jack O’Sullivan (Tommy O’Donnell 58).

Yellow card: Billy Holland (60′)

Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)

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