Ulster remain unbeaten with hard-fought win over Munster
PRO14 REPORT: Two first-half tries were enough for Ulster to seal a 15-10 derby triumph over Munster and record their 10th successive PRO14 win, ending their rivals’ unbeaten start in the process.
Both Ulster wings, Matt Faddes and Ethan McIlroy, crossed inside the first 16 minutes at the Kingspan Stadium to hand the Conference A leaders their latest success, the hosts’ second festive win over a fellow Irish province following last weekend’s triumph at Connacht.
Munster rallied in the second half but could not break through until the clock was in the red, with Darren Sweetnam’s try in added time securing a losing bonus point.
It took just six minutes for Ulster to spark the game into life courtesy of an excellent opening score.
A slick move saw James Hume send a lovely flat ball to Jacob Stockdale, who in turn fizzed a pass to Faddes. The wing claimed it superbly and finished in the right-hand corner to break the deadlock.
John Cooney’s conversion slid wide of the upright and the visitors responded strongly, moving through a series of phases inside the Ulster 22.
The home defence stood firm until conceding a penalty right in front of the posts, which Ben Healy slotted to narrow the gap.
Ulster hit back with another fine move, though this time Hume knocked on after a pass from Faddes was slightly too far in front of the centre.
But they weren’t to be denied a minute later, when Billy Burns sent a perfectly-weighted kick to the left-hand side for McIlroy to run on to and finish in the corner before Cooney nailed the touchline conversion.
McIlroy then came to the fore defensively, putting in a vital tackle on Shane Daly as the visitors moved through the gears.
A routine Cooney penalty made it 15-3, which was how it stayed until half time after an impressive 40 minutes from the Belfast outfit.
The start of the second period saw both sides build phases without adding to the scoreboard as defences came to the fore.
Nick Timoney won a vital turnover for Ulster on 48 minutes and Shane Daly did likewise for Munster after Matt Faddes had threatened to break through for his second try.
James Treadwell was next to go close for the hosts, knocking on as he stretched to place the ball down from two metres out, and Munster’s chances of launching a fightback received a blow when Billy Holland was sin-binned with 20 minutes remaining.
The visitors rallied while a man light, however, winning a series of penalties, but Healy missed a chance to reduce the deficit when his long-range effort slid just wide.
Munster went to the corner when next afforded a kickable penalty but Ulster’s defence dug in, as they had to three minutes from time to hold up Thomas Ahern over the line after an excellent break by his fellow replacement Roman Salanoa.
The visitors’ pressure eventually told when Sweetnam snuck over in added time as the second half stalemate was eventually ended, giving Munster a deserved losing bonus point, but it was Ulster who ended the game with their unbeaten record intact.
Tries: Faddes, McIlroy
Yellow Card: B.Holland 58′
Ulster: 15 Jacob Stockdale, 14 Matt Faddes, 13 James Hume, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Ethan McIlroy, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Nick Timoney, 7 David McCann, 6 Matty Rea, 5 Sam Carter (captain), 4 Kieran Treadwell, 3 Marty Moore, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Eric O’Sullivan.
Replacements: 16 Adam McBurney, 17 Callum Reid, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 David O’Connor, 20 Marcell Coetzee, 21 Nathan Doak, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Ben Moxham.
Munster: 15 Shane Daly, 14 Calvin Nash, 13 Dan Goggin, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Liam Coombes, 10 Ben Healy, 9 Craig Casey, 8 Jack O’Sullivan, 7 Chris Cloete, 6 Jack O’Donoghue, 5 Billy Holland (captain), 4 Fineen Wycherley, 3 John Ryan, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Liam O’Connor.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Roman Salanoa, 19 Thomas Ahern, 20 Tommy O’Donnell, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Jack Crowley, 23 Darren Sweetnam.
Referee: Mike Adamson (SRU)
Assistant Referees: Andrew Brace, Rob O’Sullivan (both IRFU)
TMO: Joy Neville (IRFU)