2016-17 PRO14

Ulster errors hand game to Munster.

Munster Rugby (10) 22
TRY: Angus Lloyd, Keith Earls, Dave O’Callaghan. CON: Ian Keatley, Tyler Bleyendaal. PEN: Ian Keatley
Ulster Rugby (10) 20
TRY: Rory Best, Luke Marshall. CON: Paddy Jackson (2) PEN: Paddy Jackson (2)

Ulster Rugby’s run of losses against Munster stretched to three seasons after Munster’s 22 – 20 win on Saturday afternoon at Thomond Park. The result puts a dent in Ulster’s play off hopes though with Ospreys losing against Cardiff Blues another pathway has opened up.

It really should have been a comfortable win for the Northern Province who left three tries on the pitch due to a series of handling errors, but, if they maintain the same forward effort, they have every chance to take their season to the final weekend with a win in Swansea. How they’ll do against Leinster, in that final match, is another matter!

You can’t fault Ulster’s effort throughout the game, they started in a determined fashion and, shortly after a brief break for a spot of handbags, Rory Best and the forwards drove over for the first try of the game. Paddy Jackson converted to give Ulster a 0 – 7 lead.

As they have done so often this season, they quickly mixed the good with the bad allowing, Ulster’s on loan player at Munster, Angus Lloyd stretching over for simple try after poor defence by Charles Piutau. Ian Keatley added the extras to tie the game.

Jackson landed a 14 minute penalty to put Ulster back in front and they should have opened up a thirteen point lead  before the first quarter was over, with Jackson missing a second penalty before Luke Marshall butchered a simple pass to put Pienaar through.

As I snapped away at the end Ulster were attacking I let out more than a few expletives in the second quarter as Ulster plied error on top of error and, sure enough the hosts battled their way back into the game. Keatley leveled the score on the 37th minute and Munster could have turned round with a lead as Ulster bumbled and fumbled behind their own line. As it was there was no further score and the teams went into the break with the score at 10 all.

Jacob Stockdale should have had a brace in the third quarter, the unfortunate bounce of the ball and a forward pass from Marshall denying the youngster his chance for glory. Have to say, I was impressed Stockdale kept causing problems throughout the game despite a shaky start. Jackson did land a 53rd minute penalty to give Ulster something for their dominance.

Munster were back in front at the start of the final quarter, another piece of shocking defending allowing Keith Earls to finish off a move started by Francis Saili, the conversion was missed to leave the score at 15 – 13.

Within minutes Ulster went back in front for the fourth and final time after Luke Marshall bust through some lacklustre tacking to cross from 20 yards out. Jackson converted and Ulster led 15 – 20 with 14 minutes left.

Their second quarter jitters returned and they could scarcely finish a move let alone the game. Andrew Trimble and Stuart McCloskey did put some direction in their play but Munster were always able to scramble the ball away from the danger areas.

Sure enough the hosts crossed, through Dave O’Callaghan, in one of their rare sorties into the Ulster 22 and with Tyler Bleyendaal adding the extras Munster took a two point lead into the final ten.

It was enough, Ulster huffed and puffed but couldn’t do any damage, a late drop goal attempt from Jackson going wide to effectively end the game.

Final Score: Munster Rugby 22 Ulster Rugby 20

Ulster Rugby: Jacob Stockdale, Andrew Trimble, Luke Marshall, Stuart Olding, Charles Piutau, Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar, Andrew Warwick, Rory Best, Wiehahn Herbst, Kieran Treadwell, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Sean Reidy. Replacements: Rob Herring, Callum Black, Rodney Ah You, Robbie Diack, Clive Ross, Paul Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Craig Gilroy.

Too many errors from Ulster, though overall I thought they played well in making the chances – they just couldn’t finish them off. Overall I rated it as a “Dead On” performance but if you disagree add your rating on the right.

Ulster now need a win against the Ospreys if the yare to retain any realistic interest in the top four play offs.

Picture credit John McMurtry.

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