Munster 22 Ulster 16
Sean McMahon reporting from Thomond Park
Halloween may be behind us but Munster produced a real fright for their supporters as they almost suffered an unlikely defeat at home.
With a 15-6 lead at halftime, many expected Munster to push on but some poor discipline allowed Ulster a way back into the game through the boot of John Cooney.
The northern province went into the lead halfway through the second half but it took some magic from Andrew Conway and big a slice of luck to emerge six-point winners.
Nevertheless, the southern province have now made it 25 home games unbeaten in all competitions after they overcame Ulster 22-16 at Thomond Park on Saturday evening.
Much of the narrative surrounding this fixture was how the returning international players would fit back into the respective systems after a disappointing World Cup.
From a Munster perspective, there was some clear rustiness with Peter O’Mahony seeing a pass attempt intercepted early on.
Ulster dominated the early moments of the half and James Cronin was penalised at the scrum for not driving straight which allowed Cooney, a man who could consider himself unlucky not to be involved in Japan, the opportunity to kick his side ahead. He duly obliged to give the visitors a 3-0 lead.
Unforced errors plagued Munster’s performance in the opening moments of this game which was summed up when Alby Mathewson knocked on from the base of a ruck under little pressure as his side were deep in opposition territory.
It seemed like it was going to be a game where mistakes would lead to scoring opportunities and that came true when Jacob Stockdale attempted to clear only to see the ball ricochet off Chris Farrell
Matt Faddes was then tackled inside his own goal area which gave Munster a 5m scrum.
The southern province would score off this possession as CJ Stander picked up the ball in midfield and he crossed under the posts with some help from Niall Scannell and Billy Holland who were providing the latch.
More Munster indiscipline allowed Cooney to kick another three points but that was soon cancelled out by Ulster falling foul of referee Frank Murphy’s whistle which allowed Hanrahan to reinstate the four-point lead.
Hanrahan’s final involvement in this game came when he sprinted through a gap in the Ulster defence before releasing a superb pass to Academy winger Liam Coombes. Unfortunately for the Kerry man, he was on the receiving end of a big hit from Faddes which ended his night as he was replaced by Tyler Bleyendaal.
The Kiwi out-half was soon involved in Munster’s second try as he worked the space well to play the ball to Chris Farrell and the powerful centre then sent a pass to an onrushing Rory Scannell burst through a gap to cross the line.
Munster had a great opportunity to score a third try at the end of the first half. Munster stole the ball at a midfield ruck and the ball was sent wide to Andrew Conway to kick downfield. It looked like Angus Lloyd and Faddes had control of the situation but two fumbles from the duo saw the ball go into touch just a few metres from the Ulster line.
Unfortunately for the men in red, Scannell’s lineout throw missed everyone which allowed Ulster to kick the ball dead to signal the end of the half.
Ulster dominated territory in the opening 10 minutes of the second half but two promising lineouts were picked off by O’Mahony.
The Munster captain couldn’t do anything about the next Ulster lineout as a powerful maul saw Rob Herring peel off the back and burst through a gap to score his side’s first try of the night.
Munster’s indiscipline continued to be punished as Cooney had another opportunity after CJ Stander was pinged at the ruck. The scrum-half continued his excellent form from the tee to give his side a 15-16 lead.
Just when it looked like Munster would be on the receiving end of a historic defeat, Bleyendaal played an excellent inside pass to Andrew Conway. The in-form winger put on the afterburners to escape the tackle attempt of Jacob Stockdale to cross under the posts.
With a six-point lead, Munster were still in a position to lose this game and they tried their best at doing that as Bleyendaal missed a penalty kick before then throwing a poor pass which was intercepted by Stuart McCloskey. It was only for a superb tackle from Rory Scannell which brought the powerful centre to the ground before the ball was eventually knocked on.
Tries: CJ Stander, Rory Scannell, Andrew Conway
Conversions: JJ Hanrahan [1/1] Tyler Bleyendaal [1/2]
Penalties: JJ Hanrahan [1/1] Tyler Bleyendaal [0/1]
Tries: Rob Herring
Conversions: John Cooney [1/1]
Penalties: John Cooney [3/4]
Munster: Mike Haley, Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Liam Coombes, JJ Hanrahan (Bleyendaal 30′), Alby Mathewson; James Cronin (Loughman 54′), Niall Scannell, John Ryan (Archer 54′), Jean Kleyn (Wycherley 48′), Billy Holland, Peter O’Mahony (capt), Chris Cloete (O’Donoghue 54′), CJ Stander.
Replacements: Jeremy Loughman, Kevin O’Byrne, Stephen Archer, Fineen Wycherley, Jack O’Donoghue, Conor Murray, Tyler Bleyendaal, Arno Botha.
Ulster: Matt Faddes, Rob Lyttle, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Angus Curtis, John Cooney; Jack McGrath, Rob Herring (capt) (McBurney 54′), Marty Moore (O’Toole 54′), Alan O’Connor, Sam Carter, Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy, Nick Timoney.
Replacements: Adam McBurney, Eric O’Sullivan, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Matthew Rea, David Shanahan, Bill Johnston, Robert Baloucoune.