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Munster down Ulster to go top of URC table

MATCH REPORT: Champions Munster produced a superb second-half fightback to beat Ulster 29-24 at Thomond Park and ensure they will go into the United Rugby Championship play-offs as the number one seeds.

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The defending champions trailed by 10 points on two occasions but replacement Eoghan Clarke’s 69th-minute maul try and a late Jack Crowley penalty got the job done.

Tries from Rob Herring and David McCann cancelled out RG Snyman’s seventh-minute opener to give quarterfinal-bound Ulster a 17-7 half-time lead.

Calvin Nash and Shane Daly both touched down, sandwiching a Matthew Rea score in a sparkling seven-minute spell, while Crowley and John Cooney brought their kicking boots, each landing three conversions and a penalty.

Boosted by their strong bench, Graham Rowntree’s side came out on top in front of a 17,496-strong home crowd and will host Ospreys in next weekend’s quarterfinals, with sixth-placed Ulster travelling to Leinster.

The Ulstermen lost Stuart McCloskey and Ethan McIlroy to injuries before kick-off, which brought Jude Postlethwaite and Stewart Moore into the team. The early departure of Kieran Treadwell (ankle) was another blow.

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Snyman was very fortunate to avoid a card for a high tackle on Will Addison and much to Ulster’s annoyance, the Springbok star duly scored a few minutes later, giving Crowley a straightforward conversion.

However, Ulster hit back with a well-worked maul try from Herring and Cooney soon gave his side a 10-7 lead courtesy of a 22nd-minute penalty.

Munster’s execution was letting them down and a late Crowley blunder handed Ulster a five-metre scrum. They earned a further penalty and flank McCann was able to burrow over for Cooney to convert.

A rare Cooney penalty miss preceded the unloading of the hosts’ forward-heavy bench which was a game-changer. Nash scored from a Craig Casey pass and Crowley’s touchline conversion cut the gap to just three points.

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Cormac Izuchukwu broke menacingly to put Ulster right back in scoring range and Cooney’s short pass helped Rea power over. Cooney also curled over the extras for a 24-14 scoreline.

Crucially, Munster clawed back those seven points by the hour mark. Replacement Joey Carbery’s half-break produced quick ball, which Casey scooped up one-handed to send Daly over from the left wing which Crowley converted.

Clarke redeemed himself for a previous crooked throw when he muscled his way over in the left corner and the Reds held onto the momentum as Crowley’s closing penalty put them just out of reach.

Player of the match

Munster had to put an error-strewn first half behind them and the running and industry of try-scoring wingers Daly and Nash helped them to turn the screw. Recent Six Nations winner Nash won the award as Munster made it nine league wins in a row.

Play of the match

Nash’s 51st-minute try was the pick of the bunch. The Munster replacements brought an immediate impact as Oli Jager and Gavin Coombes both carried well either side of a weaving run from Crowley inside Ulster’s 22. Casey had a quick scan and knew exactly where to put his pass from a close-in ruck. He lofted a pinpoint delivery to the right for his fellow Limerick man to finish over the line.

The scorers:

For Munster:
Tries: Snyman, Nash, Daly, Clarke
Cons: Crowley 3
Pen: Crowley

For Ulster:
Tries: Herring, McCann, Rea
Cons: Cooney 2
Pen: Cooney

Teams: 

Munster: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Calvin Nash, 13 Seán O’Brien, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Shane Daly, 10 Jack Crowley, 9 Craig Casey, 8 Jack O’Donoghue, 7 Alex Kendellen, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Tadhg Beirne (captain), 4 RG Snyman, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Jeremy Loughman
Replacements: 16 Eoghan Clarke, 17 John Ryan, 18 Oli Jager, 19 Tom Ahern, 20 Gavin Coombes, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 John Hodnett

Ulster: 15 Ethan McIlroy, 14 Mike Lowry, 13 Will Addison, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Nick Timoney, 7 David McCann, 6 Cormac Izuchukwu, 5 Alan O’Connor (captain), 4 Kieran Treadwell, 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Eric O’Sullivan
Replacements: 16 Tom Stewart, 17 Andy Warwick, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Harry Sheridan, 20 Matty Rea, 21 Nathan Doak, 22 Jude Postlethwaite, 23 Stewart Moore

Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Robbie Jenkinson (Ireland) and Andrew Fogarty (Ireland)
TMO: Andrew Brace (Ireland)

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