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Dublin: 7°C Saturday 8 May 2021

Jackson underlines superb form with Joe Schmidt watching on

Iain Henderson’s debatable red card, a thrilling contest and next weekend’s final round.

ULSTER DREW 23-23 with Munster in a thrilling Guinness Pro12 clash at Kingspan Stadium this afternoon.

Read our full match report here.

Paddy Jackson the playmaker

Ulster’s out-half was simply superb this afternoon, even if we look beyond his mental strength to absolutely nail the last-gasp conversion that ensured Ulster gained two league points rather than slipping to defeat.

Paddy Jackson is congratulated by teammates after levelling the score with the last kick of the game Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

His passing was sumptuous again, as he mixed longer efforts with prompting, understanding touches over shorter distances. There were darts himself with ball in hand too, as Jackson varied his game wonderfully.

It was intriguing to see Jackson take over the place-kicking duties from Ruan Pienaar; a Joe Schmidt-influenced call. The Ireland coach, present at Kingspan Stadium, will have been hugely impressed with what he witnessed.

Jackson looks every inch the second best Irish out-half right now, and most certainly the in-form playmaker available to Schmidt for the World Cup.

Red card?

Iain Henderson saw red with 73 minutes gone when Nigel Owens and TMO Kevin Beggs ruled that the Ulster blindside had led with the head in clearing Ronan O’Mahony out at a ruck inside the Munster 22.

Iain Henderson Source: Presseye/William Cherry/INPHO

Our first impression was that the sending off was a harsh assessment of the situation, but repeated viewings of the incident make the match officials’ decision more understandable. Still, it would have been hard to argue with a yellow in this instance.

Henderson is not a violent player, though he has certainly added major aggression to his game, so any sense of a deliberate action can be ruled out. Henderson now faces potentially missing Ulster’s crucial visit to Glasgow next weekend, exactly when he has hit top form.

Ulster will be appealing the decision.

This is Pro12 rugby

This was the most entertaining Pro12 game we can recall watching this season, although the Ospreys and Glasgow have also been involved in some highly-watchable encounters too.

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Iain Henderson with Keith Earls Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

With weather conditions ideal and both Ulster and Munster having freedom to pick their best players to start, this was Pro12 rugby at it’s very best. The league has taken some bashing in recent years, but the excitement of the denouement in this campaign has been and will continue to be refreshing.

Ulster were perhaps a little more ambitious with ball in hand and maybe even over ambitious at times as some of their offloading went to deck. That said, efforts like Henderson’s supreme one-hander for the Tommy Bowe try should never be restricted.

Munster played their part in an absorbing game that was extremely pleasing on the eye. while the atmosphere in Kingspan Stadium was sensational. Let’s hope it’s a taste of what’s left to come in the remainder of the season.

Who left it behind?

Munster were in the driving seat at 23-16 with four minutes left in Belfast and they will certainly believe they’ve left two points behind as they travel back south, but Ulster will have equal regrets.

Paul O'Connell with Michael Heaney after the game Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Their extended patches of first-half possession could and should have led to further scores, though the Munster defence deserves major credit for a hard-working and disciplined performance as they coped with Ulster’s expansive attack.

To next weekend

And so the positions of the top four in the Pro12 remain unchanged from this morning’s table, with Munster sitting third and Ulster still fourth. Anthony Foley’s side welcome the Dragons to Musgrave Park next weekend, as Neil Doak’s side travel to Glasgow Warriors.

Dan Tuohy and Chris Henry with Eusebio Guinazu and Jack O'Donoghue Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Munster will be targeting a bonus-point win over their Welsh opponents to give themselves every chance of a home semi-final, while Ulster need to pull off a big away win to give themselves a chance and then rely on other results.

League leaders Ospreys are away to Pat Lam’s Connacht on the final day, the western province potentially still chasing automatic Champions Cup qualification with a home win.

It leaves the final day poised brilliantly and the permutations plentiful. Home semi-finals for the Ospreys and Munster? The Ospreys and Glasgow to hold their top-two positions?

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Murray Kinsella

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