Ulster marched into the United Rugby Championship semi-finals with an emphatic
victory over Munster at Kingspan Stadium
The attendance for a fixture that was not covered by season tickets hardly reflected
the game’s importance but the estimated 12,000 cared and were royally entertained.
This URC quarter-final was over long before the end. In truth, it never, ever really
looked in doubt.
An altogether slicker and more accurate Ulster conjured a couple of first-phase tries
through their vastly superior launch plays and back play which were simply beyond
A lamentable Munster performance, riddled with handling inaccuracies and ill-
discipline as well as a defense which again bunched up narrowly too often ended
their uneven and anticlimactic season and also the Johann van Graan/Stephen
Larkham/JP Ferreira era.
Lurching from one style to another, and from the Exeter and Toulouse performances
to the last two, is hard to credit. On this truly sad evidence, training standards need
serious improvement. There have been good performances and there is talent, but
the Graham Rowntree reboot, with input from Mike Prendergast and Denis Leamy,
looks even timelier now.
In the meantime, Munster must hope Glasgow doesn’t win the URC, or else they won’t
even qualify for next season’s Champions Cup.
That Peter O’Mahony, of all people, should drop the kick-off rather than set the tone for
Munster’s ragged performance. Mike Haley had a clearance charged down by the
outstanding James Hume after taking a high pass from Andrew Conway and soon the
knock-ons began mounting.
Meantime, Billy Burns punished Fineen Wycherley’s high tackle on Duane Vermeulen
by pinging the penalty 50 metres into the corner. Although the maul was held up, a
penalty for offside followed and as half-a-dozen Munster players were embroiled in
an off-the-ball scuffle John Cooney called for a quick tap under the posts from Hume
to score untouched.
On his 100th Ulster appearance, Cooney landed the conversion.
Despite Munster’s handling errors and lack of sharpness with a launch play, Stuart
McCloskey’s clearance from his own 22 metre line bounced unluckily dead. From the
scrum, Munster generated some momentum, Cheris Farrell twice and Jean Kleyn
made inroads before Gavin Coombes burst towards the posts. The ball squirted out
from the ruck and came off Kleyn’s boot before he regathered to draw the side’s level.
When Munster came calling again, Stephen Archer made a break from Coombes’
inside pass on the night he became their second most capped player, the match
pivoted on Robert Baloucoune shooting up to engulf Joey Carbery and prevent him
from putting Keith Earls over.
Carbery was also pinged for holding on and from the ensuing lineout, Ulster struck
stealthily, bringing Baloucoune off his wing to expose a Munster Achilles heel in
defense for Hume to put the winger through a gap. Stewart Moore passed on to Ethan
McIlroy took the return offload to complete a lovely try.
Munster’s errors and discipline mounted as Ulster built through the phases with far
more accuracy and width. Earls shot up to tackle Moore but when Ulster came back to
the right and Hume fed Moore, albeit, with an undetected forward pass, the fullback
took Earls’ tackle to score.
Munster also lost Conor Murray with a failed HIA, and a very harsh call for a crooked
throw against Niall Scannell left Munster trailing 19-7 at the break.
On the resumption, Archer needlessly shoved Cooney to the turf after the ball and
Ulster struck again from the ensuing lineout. Hume’s out-in line on to McCloskey’s
delayed short pass beat de Allende and Timoney was in support for the finish.
Munster looked to have had the lifeline of a charge down try by Coombes, but he
fumbled in grounding and Fineen Wycherley was wrongly adjudged to have knocked
A scrum penalty, after the prop replacements, and a lineout drive earned a blindside
finish by Earls from Casey’s pass, but Cooney’s penalty soon made it a three-score
game before he was given a departing ovation.