Munster claim dramatic win after early red card
URC REPORT: A gritty backs-to-the-wall effort saw Munster overcome Simon Zebo’s early sending-off to defeat Ulster 18-13 in the United Rugby Championship at Thomond Park.
Zebo was red-carded for a high tackle in the 15th minute and Ulster, with Rob Herring having earlier touched down, sensed a first victory in Limerick since May 2014.
Two Nathan Doak penalties, in response to a couple of Jack Crowley three-pointers, had the visitors leading 13-6 until Munster rallied.
Inspired by Tadhg Beirne, the men in red closed the gap with a Mike Haley try before replacement Alex Kendellen scored the match-winner with five minutes remaining.
Beirne came in late to captain Munster on his 30th birthday, standing in for Peter O’Mahony who was withdrawn following the warm-up, while Kendellen had been drafted in to take Beirne’s place on the bench.
Following two recent postponements, Ulster’s eager forwards delivered a seventh-minute maul try for Herring, which John Cooney converted.
Munster suffered an even bigger blow when Zebo’s shoulder made contact with the face of Ulster fullback Mike Lowry. TMO Brian MacNeice’s input led to referee Mike Adamson reaching for his red card.
Strong carries from John Hodnett and Thomas Ahern sparked a furious Munster spell near the Ulster line. Crowley popped over a penalty and added a second one after Sam Carter was slow to roll away.
However, Doak, who replaced the injured Cooney, made it 10-6 just before half-time and Ulster exerted maul pressure again on the resumption.
Ahern thwarted Dan McFarland’s men with two impressive line-out steals, before a big Tom O’Toole-led scrum set up a long-range penalty from Doak for 13-6.
The numbers were evened up when Ulster replacement Kieran Treadwell was sin-binned for a tip tackle on Shane Daly. Munster immediately took advantage, Craig Casey’s superb long pass putting Haley over out wide.
Crowley hit the post with the difficult conversion from the right and Doak was short with a monster penalty attempt.
Ultimately, Munster showed the greater hunger, led by the brilliant Beirne, whose breakdown smarts were a key factor throughout.
Replacement Jack O’Donoghue wriggled through into the 22, Fineen Wycherley was stopped short, but the ball popped back for a well-placed Kendellen to score and Ben Healy converted.
Player of the match
Herring and Lowry, whose footwork and fielding were excellent, led the way for the Ulstermen.
However, 14-man Munster hung in there and were rewarded for a gutsy performance.
Haley starred at the back, but for his numerous turnover penalties, leadership and physicality around the field, Beirne earned the URC Player of the Match nod.
Play of the match
It was a low-scoring but absorbing interprovincial contest, and the most effective play came early on from a reliable source.
A high number of Ulster’s tries this season have come from their line-out platform and hooker Herring used the maul in ruthless fashion.
Tries: Haley, Kendellen
Pens: Crowley 2
Pens: Doak 2
Red card: Simon Zebo (Munster, 15 – dangerous play, high tackle)
Yellow card: Kieran Treadwell (Ulster, 59)
Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Seán French, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Jack Crowley, 9 Craig Casey, 8 Gavin Coombes, 7 John Hodnett, 6 Tadhg Beirne (captain), 5 Fineen Wycherley, 4 Thomas Ahern, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Diarmuid Barron, 17 Josh Wycherley, 18 John Ryan, 19 Alex Kendellen, 20 Jack O’Donoghue, 21 Neil Cronin, 22 Ben Healy, 23 Shane Daly.
Ulster: 15 Mike Lowry, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Ben Moxham, 12 James Hume, 11 Ethan McIlroy, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Nick Timoney, 6 Greg Jones, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Alan O’Connor (captain), 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Ross Kane, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Marcus Rea, 21 Nathan Doak, 22 Angus Curtis, 23 Rob Lyttle.
Referee: Mike Adamson
Assistant referees: Paul Haycock & Dermot Blake
TMO: Brian MacNeice