Ulster produced a record-equalling comeback to secure five points against Munster after trailing 17-0 at half time.
A Niall Scannell double and a penalty try gave Munster a terrific start but Darren Cave and a Craig Gilroy brace brought Ulster back into the game. Rob Lyttle crossed to add the bonus point in the last play.
Munster had the first opportunity to get on the scoreboard but JJ Hanrahan nudged the kick wide. Ulster found early joy on the left wing through Rob Lyttle and looked to stretch the narrow Munster defence but, it was the away side that turned the screw early on forcing Ulster to concede four penalties in the first 12 minutes. Three successive mauls, and penalties conceded at each, allowed Scannell to cross for his first try. Not even a quarter of the game in and Munster had enjoyed complete dominance in the lineout.
Ulster showed that they were just as dangerous in the backs as Munster were in the forwards. Rob Lyttle combined with Craig Gilroy to put John Cooney down the left wing. Ulster’s first venture into the opposition ended with a stray pass but it did show that Ulster’s back line had their number.
However, Munster were next to score and they doubled their lead through another Niall Scannell try. Again, Munster pushed the Ulster pack around like a rag doll and the maul breezed across the line at a canter.
A penalty try for Munster followed from a scrum after a great tactical kick from Duncan Williams saw Piutau trapped behind his own line. Ulster trailed 17-0 at the break after a brief glimmer of pressure which came to an abrupt end after Munster showed Ulster how to defend a maul as Tommy O’Donnell sliced through the protecting players to shepherd Rob Herring into touch.
Ulster started the second half positively with Lyttle and Piutau making breaks. By pinning Munster on their own line they forced penalties, in similar fashion to Ulster in the first half. John Cooney thought he got Ulster on the board as he dived over but, after a short deliberation with the TMO, Sean Gallagher ruled the try out for obstruction.
Ulster finally got on the board through Darren Cave when he carved a hole in the Munster defence to score under the posts. Sam Arnold was shown a red card for high hit on Christian Lealiifano in the build-up handing Ulster a great chance to turn a game around in which, based on the first half, they looked likely to leave empty handed.
Munster tried to kill the Ulster momentum by keeping the ball tight to eat up time. It didn’t last for long however, a super Charles Piutau kick put Munster on the back foot and they paid the price. Lealiifano floated a magnificent pass out to Craig Gilroy who crossed in the corner before John Cooney nailed the conversion to give Ulster the lead for the first time in the match.
At half time I was preparing for the worst; a heavy interprovincial defeat at home where scoring a point looked a challenge. However, credit to the players, they turned the second half around and, not only did they snatch victory from the jaws of defeat but also bagged a bonus when Rob Lyttle crossed for a try in the last play of the game. The late drop out of Louis Ludik allowed Darren Cave to start in his natural 13 position and, even in the first half when the heads were down, Cave still picked the smart lines which allowed Ulster space on the outside.
It’s easy to get caught up in the euphoria of an incredible match but Ulster’s problems remain. The lineout seriously malfunctioned, while the forwards were a clear second best. The dismissal of Sam Arnold swung the game in the favour of Ulster and bar a short spell in the middle of the second half, they were superior. Chris Cloete had the freedom of the breakdown and was at the forefront of everything positive that Munster did in the first half. Only in the second half did Ulster begin to hit the rucks with any conviction.
Ulster can take confidence from the second half performance, however a trip to Leinster awaits where Ulster will not be allowed to get out of jail like they did tonight. The win puts 8-points between Ulster and Edinburgh and closes the gap to next week’s opponents to 6-points.
Ulster: Charles Piutau, Craig Gilroy, Darren Cave, Stuart McCloskey, Rob Lyttle, Christian Lealiifano, John Cooney; Kyle McCall, Rob Herring, Rodney Ah You, Alan O’Connor, Kieran Treadwell, Greg Jones, Nick Timoney, Jean Deysel. Replacements: Adam McBurney, Callum Black, Wiehahn Herbst, Robbie Diack, Matthew Rea, Paul Marshall, Johnny McPhillips, Andrew Trimble
Halfbacks Cooney and Lealiifano controlled the game in the second half while Darren Cave performed admirably in both defence and attack. Kyle McCall and Rodney Ah You had a nightmare in the first half and the arrival of Callum Black and Wiehahn Herbst steadied a retreating scrum. Charles Piutau provided a creative spark and Rob Lyttle was electric when given a inch of space. Adam McBurney, Paul Marshall, Johnny McPhillips and Andrew Trimble were unused replacements.
Ulster Player Ratings
Halfbacks Cooney and Lealiifano controlled the game in the second half while Darren Cave performed admirably in both defence and attack.
Kyle McCall and Rodney Ah You had a nightmare in the first half and the arrival of Callum Black and Wiehahn Herbst steadied a retreating scrum.
Charles Piutau provided a creative spark and Rob Lyttle was electric when given a inch of space.
Adam McBurney, Paul Marshall, Johnny McPhillips and Andrew Trimble were unused replacements.