Ulster holds Munster to a draw
The captain returned in some style with two tries before half-time whistle, knowing a bonus-point win combined with Edinburgh taking zero points from Glasgow would see them into third.
Stuart McCloskey had dotted down with five minutes but Duncan Williams, Brian Scott and Robin Copeland ensured Munster would not give up the fight, already into the Final Series.
And with 12 minutes to go Hanrahan’s penalty ensured the game came to an end in fitting style, a tense draw to round off the regular season.
Ulster needed a quick start but it was the home side who stole the march within two minutes, Williams pouncing on the loose ball after good work by Copeland.
But within two minutes Munster were pegged back as Jacob Stockdale – halted in his tracks by Darren Sweetman – was able to find McCloskey who duly touched down.
By then the track of the game was set, Munster prop Scott scoring his side’s second try of the evening.
Yet against the visitors responded in quick style as Best capitalised on a yellow card, scoring on a powerful driving maul by the forwards to crash over.
And on the stroke of half-time history repeated itself as Best was once again on the act, breaking off the back of the maul for Ulster’s third try of the half – keeping them in with a chance of securing the all-important bonus point win.
But Munster, guaranteed a home semi-final qualifier, were far from there to make up the numbers as they came out quicker in the second half, looking to haul back a 24-14 deficit.
They ate into that disadvantage too, Robin Copeland crashing over the whitewash on the hour mark with their Irish rivals down to 14 men ten minutes into the second half.
With six tries and six conversions, all that separated the two sides was a Johnny McPhillips penalty – with everything to play for in the closing 15 minutes.
But the three-point deficit was wiped out with out with just ten minutes to go, JJ Hanrahan finding his range from the tee.
From there it was all Ulster as the clock headed into the red at 24-24, but a stray line-out saw their chances slip away – now unable to catch Edinburgh in Conference B with just a spare of the spoils.
Tries:Williams, Scott, Copeland
Cons: Hanrahan 3
Tries:McCloskey, Best 2
Cons: McPhillips 3
Munster: 15 Stephen Fitzgerald, 14 Calvin Nash, 13 Sammy Arnold, 12 Dan Goggin, 11 Darren Sweetnam, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 Robin Copeland, 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Dave O’Callaghan, 5 Darren O’Shea, 4 Gerbrandt Grobler, 3 Brian Scott, 2 Mike Sherry (captain), 1 James Cronin.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Jeremy Loughman, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Jean Kleyn, 20 Jack O’Donoghue, 21 James Hart, 22 Bill Johnston, 23 Shane Daly.
Ulster: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Johnny McPhillips, 9 Dave Shanahan, 8 Nick Timoney, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Clive Ross, 5 Iain Henderson, 4 Alan O'Connor, 3 Ross Kane, 2 Rory Best (captain), 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Andy Warwick, 18 Tom O'Toole, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Chris Henry, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Angus Curtis, 23 Tommy Bowe.
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: Aled Evans (Wales), Simon Rees (Wales)
TMO: Sean Brickell (Wales)