On a night that had the potential to be a banana skin with a fully loaded* Munster side travelling up to Kingspan Stadium, Ulster dispatched Johann Van Graan’s men with ease to maintain a healthy distance from Glasgow Warriors and Toyota Cheetahs in Conference A of the PRO14.
I was slightly worried about this match pre-game and even more so when Shane Daly opened Munster’s account on ten minutes as I thought if there was any side to neutralise the attacking potency of Ulster it would be Peter O’Mahony’s Munster. Five try Ulster made light work of a Munster side featuring Irish internationals Andrew Conway, Keith Earls, Conor Murray and O’Mahony.
Ten points from John Cooney gave Dan McFarland’s men the lead shortly before the end of the first quarter. As Ulster have done so well in previous weeks, they exploited a lack of cover on the blindside and Cooney ran an excellent supporting line off Jacob Stockdale to score Ulster’s opening try.
Ulster went in seven points up at the break. After over five minutes of pressure on the Munster line and unlucky not to be facing 14 men for ten minutes, Robert Baloucoune scored in the corner. A penalty with the last kick of the half for Joey Carbery narrowed the deficit to a converted try.
It didn’t matter however as Ulster came racing out of the blocks in at the start of the second half. A strong carry from Sean Reidy pierced the Munster line and quickly recycled ball allowed Matty Rea to sprint over from just inside the 22m line.
After a mediocre first half from the away side, I was expecting Munster to come out and make a statement at the start of the second half. Credit must go to Ulster for preventing this however as their line speed in defence forced Munster mistakes.
The game was sealed for Ulster on 58 minutes when Stuart McCloskey barged over for the bonus point try. To set the platform Alan O’Connor stole a Munster lineout on the home side’s 10m allowing Cooney to launch a pinpoint box kick. With Nick Timoney putting in a great momentum building tackle on Dan Goggin and Stockdale and O’Connor following up to get over the ball, Munster had no option but to seal off in an attempt to preserve possession which lead to an Ulster penalty.
Several phases after electing to go to the corner, McCloskey spotted a weak shoulder in the Munster defence and bulldozed his way over for his third try of the season. Jacob Stockdale returned to the scoresheet four minutes later with an intercept on his own 10m line.
Ulster’s discipline went in the final 15 minutes of the match which culminated in a yellow card for Kyle McCall. Munster finally got their hands on the ball and were able to string together a few phases. Niall Scannell scored Munster’s second try from a rolling maul to make the score a bit more respectable from an away perspective.
Without Marcell Coetzee in the back row last night, Rea, Reidy and Timoney had a massive job on their hands against Jack O’Donoghue, O’Mahony and Arno Botha. All three excelled putting in a combined total of 48 tackles and running 54 metres from 18 carries.
Generally if you win the collisions, you’re going to win the game of rugby. Ulster never stopped winning collisions all night in both attack and defence. Ball carriers continually broke the gain line which put the defence on the back foot while the defence was ferocious and up in Munster’s face all night. This was typified by a couple of super tackles from Will Addison and Craig Gilroy in the latter stages of the match.
Ulster finish the interpro period with 11 points from a possible 15 – a total that exceeds a lot of expectations. The team is on a wave of confidence at the minute and with a crunch tie in the Stade Marcel-Michelin on the horizon this would be a terrific opportunity to signal their European ambitions this season.
After a rocky start to the season, Clermont have recovered and are lying in fifth in the Top14. They’ve lost one home match this season against Pau in September and face a tough match at Paris La Defense Arena against Racing 92.