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Munster dig out losing bonus point as Baloucoune tips the balance for Ulster

Rob Herring and Dave Shanahan also scored for the hosts, but they were unable to secure a bonus point.

Baloucoune crosses for the match-winning try.
Baloucoune crosses for the match-winning try.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Ulster 19

Munster 12

Sean Farrell reports from Kingspan Stadium

ON THE SHORTEST day of the year, an under-strength Munster gave Ulster a much longer night than they anticipated.

And though the hosts ultimately dug out a win from this feisty inter-pro, the southern province will take heart from a losing bonus point as they return home for Christmas.

Though Ulster were able to limit the changes to personnel from their Heineken Champions Cup back-to-back wins, Munster’s much-changed outfit had freshness and the relish of many men who were just returning from injury.

Hazy wet conditions played their part in acting as a leveller, yet for all Ulster’s front-liners, the absence of star power from Iain Henderson and Jacob Stockdale felt telling as the contest remained one-point game until the hour mark when Robert Baloucoune rounded off a brilliant move.

John Cooney’s early departure for a failed HIA was a blow too, though Dave Shanahan was a spritely addition in attack.

Tempers flare between the two teams A few skirmishes broke out between players determined to shine in the derby. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Ulster survived an early scare tinged with deja vu. Their last inter-pro outing in October was marked by a red card for Matty Rea for upending Connacht’s Cian Kelleher straight from the second half restart. Tonight, a longer kick from Billy Burns was taken by Darren Sweetnam on his 22 metre line. Baloucoune’s pace took him into the challenge, but just a fraction late and he earned a yellow card for taking the Corkman out.  

The Fermanagh flyer was fortunate that his contact did not force Sweetnam over the horizontal and that the wing avoided a head-first landing on the turf.

This crowd are well-versed in aerial tackles and the punishments and there was a sense of relief when Sean Gallagher came back from the big screen with a yellow card. And the home side were content to concede just a JJ Hanrahan penalty before the Sevens international returned.

Robert Baloucoune leaves the pitch after receiving a yellow card Baloucoune leaves the field for his early sin-bin. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Though Munster sent and under-strength side on the road, they weren’t found wanting at the breakdown. The combination of Munster’s accuracy on the ground and inaccuracy from both sides elsewhere made for a frustrating opening half hour before a flash of Will Addison brilliance brought a roar to Ravenhill.

Mike Haley’s knock-on in midfield was collected and replacement scrum-half Dave Shanahan ensured there was no delay in shifting the ball wide. Addison found the gap and his classy gliding run took him arcing through another to enter the red zone. Addison passed to Shanahan, but Conor Oliver caught the scrum-half with an excellent tackle and the visitors scrambled to slowed the ball down. 

Ulster would not be kept at bay much longer, however. From the resulting penalty, a maul blasted through the final five metres and captain Rob Herring was perched ready to score to send Ulster into half-time leading 7-3.

Rob Herring celebrates scoring a try with teammates Herring celebrates his try. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The second half struggled to settle into any sort of rhythm with errors continuing from both sides before the replacements began to roll. Hanrahan pulled Munster back within a point, but the introduction of Rory Best gave the home crowd enough reason to shout and the white pack responded.

On the hour, a turnover sent Ulster instinctively probing wide again. Best twirled into contact and got his arms free just enough to lob an offload back to Burns. He fed James Hume to cut through a gap, the bubbly Shanahan was again in support and this time the move was finished off first time as the scrum-half had Baloucoune on his shoulder, waiting to cruise in under the posts.

Replacement scrum-half Bill Johnston held his nerve to nudge Munster back within five despite the ball initially falling off the tee, but all eyes were drawn to the other end of the field as Best drove Ulster in search of an unlikely bonus point.

The maul again took them close, making space for Shanahan to sneak over for his side’s third score. But with 77 minutes up, the clock was already against Ulster before Shanahan kicked the ball away in celebration and Burns lined up his conversion attempt.

There was time for a bonus point, but not the one Ulster were seeking and Johnston brought the game to a close by bringing Munster back within seven with his second penalty.

A fourth win on the trot for Ulster, and they close the gap a little to Leinster at the top of Pro14 Conference B, but this match appeared to be a bonus point ready and waiting to be unwrapped and they just never got their claws into it.

Scorers

Ulster

Tries: R Herring, R Baloucoune, D Shanahan

Conversions: B Burns (2/3)

Munster

Penalties: JJ Hanrahan (2/2), B Johnston (2/2)

Ulster: Louis Ludik (James Hume ’52 (Johnny McPhillips ’66)), Henry Speight, Will Addison, Stuart McCloskey, Robert Baloucoune, Billy Burns, John Cooney (Dave Shanahan ’24): Eric O’Sullivan, (Kyle McCall ’55) Rob Herring (Rory Best ’52), Marty Moore (Ross Kane ’55), Ian Nagle, Kieran Treadwell, Sean Reidy (Nick Timoney ’59), Jordi Murphy, Marcell Coetzee

Munster: Mike Haley (Bill Johnston ’56), Darren Sweetnam, Sammy Arnold, Jaco Taute, Alex Wootton, JJ Hanrahan (Shane Daly ’62), Alby Mathewson (Neil Cronin ’55): Jeremy Loughman, Dave Kilcoyne ’55), Kevin O’Byrne (Mike Sherry ’68), Stephen Archer (Ciaran Parker ’66), Jean Kleyn (Gavin Coombes ’66), Darren O’Shea, Fineen Wycherley, Conor Oliver (Tommy O’Donnell ’55), Arno Botha.

Murray Kinsella, Gavan Casey and Andy Dunne preview another big weekend of rugby action and dissect the week’s main talking points.


Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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