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Dublin: 11°C Tuesday 18 May 2021
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Keatley keeps his cool to arrest Munster slide with win away to Ulster

The under-fire out-half ensured his team avoided a sixth straight loss.

Ulster 7

Munster 9

Sean Farrell reports from Kingspan Stadium

OUT-HALF IAN Keatley put a difficult end to 2015 behind him to begin 2016 with steady assurance as he kicked two penalties and a drop-goal to give Munster a win after five straight defeats.

Nick Williams and Chris Henry with Ian Keatley Source: James Crombie/INPHO

His opposite number Paddy Jackson steered Ulster impressively in the first half, but was unable to get enough power behind two penalties that could have changed the result after Munster moved back into the lead.

Provinces north and south began the day third and seventh respectively in the Pro12, but now sit level on points in fourth and  fifth with Munster slightly edging the way forward.

Despite losing both Andrew Conway (bruised hip) and Dave Foley (dead leg) from the starting line-up before kick-off, the visitors acquitted themselves well early on; testing the alertness of the Ulster rearguard early on and taking the reward of three points after eight minutes. Still, there was a long way to go if they were to record their first win in Belfast since October 2010.

Ulster’s breakdown effort – powered as ever by Rory Best – began to find its rhythm midway through the first half, however, allowing the back-line to fan out across the width of the field.

Once Ulster got themselves into that shape, Jackson was able to excel: testing the line himself, swinging long passes wide and brilliantly linking with the brawn to his brains Stuart McCloskey.

The inside centre has plenty of clever touches of his own of course, but it was his footwork and upper body power than took Ulster to within five metres of the try-line. Once set up in that right hand corner, the hosts looked inevitable to score and once Nick Williams drew in another three tacklers, Pienaar and Jackson found the space for Ludik to blast through a weak shoulder and over the line for a 23rd minute lead.

Louis Ludik scores a try Source: Presseye/Matt Mackey/INPHO

Les Kiss’ men were unable to build on that lead though. And instead needed to call on their defensive prowess to hold up a Munster attack after a red rumble left to right off a line-out. The best opportunity the visitors fashioned in the opening period was thanks to a loose pass by Williams. Scannell picked the ball off in flight, broke clear and raced from his own halfway line to within 10 metres of a try, but on his 200th cap Andrew Trimble was there to haul him down.

The four-point lead looked increasingly precarious as the second half struggled to spark to life. Sure enough, Munster were hanging grimly on in there and by the hour mark they hauled themselves into the lead thanks to a drop-goal and penalty from Keatley.

Mistakes

The home crowd reacted to falling behind, but the home team struggled to rediscover its tempo with Munster’s line-speed and tackling accuracy denying them the gainlines that yielded the game’s only try.

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Even Jackson and McCloskey, flawless in the first half, began to make mistakes.

A touchline penalty from the out-half could have put his side back in the lead, but it was undercooked and slipped underneath the post and a low pass while running a move from deep was evidence of pressure mounting on the hosts.

The white shirts kept coming, believing they could find a breakthrough. Today, however, Munster looked like an outfit that craved victory and they deserve to chew over this one.

Scorers

Ulster

Tries: L Ludik

Conversions: P Jackson

Munster

Drop-goal: I Keatley

Penalties: I Keatley (2)

Ulster: Louis Ludik, Andrew Trimble, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Rory Scholes, Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar: Kyle McCall, Rory Best (Capt), Wiehahn Herbst, Lewis Stevenson, Franco van der Merwe, Robbie Diack, Chris Henry, Nick Williams.

Replacements: Rob Herring (for Williams ’71), Callum Black (for McCall ’64), Ricky Lutton (for Herbst ’35), Alan O’Connor (Stevenson ’53), Roger Wilson (for Diack ’53), Paul Marshall (for Pienaar ’70), Ian Humphreys, Sam Arnold (for Marshall ’54).

Munster: Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino; Gerhard van den Heever, Francis Saili, Rory Scannell, Ronan O’Mahony; Ian Keatley, Tomás O’Leary; Dave Kilcoyne, Mike Sherry, BJ Botha; Billy Holland, Mark Chisholm; Jack O’Donoghue, Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander (Capt).

Replacements:  Niall Scannell (for Sherry ’56), John Ryan (for Botha ’70), Mario Sagario, Shane Buckley, Robin Copeland (for O’Donnell ’56), Duncan Williams (for O’Leary ’57), Tyler Bleyendaal, Denis Hurley (for Scannell ’57).

Referee: Gary Conway

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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