Ulster 7-9 Munster: Home comforts come to an end
Munster ended Ulster's long unbeaten home record in the PRO12 with a gritty 9-7 win on Saturday but were left thankful that their error-prone hosts were unable to snatch victory when Paddy Jackson was off target with a last-gasp penalty attempt.
Les Kiss's side had not lost a league game at their Kingspan Stadium home since Leinster took advantage of a Tom Court red card all the way back in May of 2014 but nine points from the boot of Ian Keatley were all a Munster team lacking in confidence would need to avoid establishing their worst losing streak of the professional era.
Anthony Foley's men came into the contest having lost five in a row, while Ulster had reeled off four wins on the spin, and the bookies rendered the result almost a foregone conclusion before kick-off but the visitors took advantage of a sloppy display from their accommodating neighbours.
A converted but controversial try from Louis Ludik had given Ulster a lead at the turn but they failed to score in the second-half with Jackson also missing another penalty attempt prior to the dramatic denouement.
Had the young out-half stolen the four points, from a not dissimilar position to the one he rescued a draw when these two sides met at the end of last season, however, few in attendance could have said it was a deserved reward for their showing.
Munster had the better of the opening exchanges and a loose lineout from Ulster gift wrapped the first points of the day.
Andrew Trimble had combined with Stuart McCloskey to force Ronan O'Mahony into touch but Rory Best's throw for Franco van der Merwe came back on the Munster side via Wallaby lock Mark Chisholm.
With Francis Saili zipping the ball out wide, Nick Williams didn't support his weight at the breakdown and the recently maligned Ian Keatley settled any nerves with a sure-footed penalty.
Just as he did to devastating effect in Toulouse a fortnight ago, Rory Scholes put the opposition under pressure with a grubber into the corner forcing Lucas Amorosino, switched to fullback in one of two late changes, into conceding a lineout.
The maul threatened to rumble over but when momentum was halted and Ulster moved wide, Ruan Pienaar was called for holding on.
Afters threatened to boil over but the TMO found no reason to reverse the penalty.
When Ulster found themselves in the same corner moments later, the pack opted for a degree more guile but the ball went loose and the chance was gone.
Another piece of mishandling on half-way looked to have allowed Munster in for the simplest of scores but Trimble chased down Scannell having given the centre a considerable head start.
Les Kiss's side grew into the game and, having strung through a series of phases, Stuart McCloskey and Nick Williams carried across the gainline before Pienaar found a charging Louis Ludik catapulting across the whitewash.
With captain CJ Stander in the blood bin, it was Billy Holland pleading the case that Ulster's Chris Henry had played the ball from an offside position in the build-up but Jackson kept his concentration to convert despite the seemingly just complaints.
As Ulster prop Wiehahn Herbst hobbled off to be replaced by Ricky Lutton, Munster threatened but were unable to score again before half-time.
After the turn, an excellent aerial take from Trimble over Ronan O'Mahony looked set to force an opening but Ulster made no attempt to protect the ruck and Mike Sherry scooted around to gather the loose ball.
With less than 20 minutes to go, a stolen line-out and a scrum against the head had Anthony Foley's men very much in the ascendancy but with no way through they settled for a Keatley drop goal to reduce the arrears to one.
Ulster's most slender of advantages would not hold for long and, when Lutton was caught coming in from the side, Keatley's penalty nudged Munster ahead.
In what was an increasingly sloppy encounter, the Thomond Park outfit almost presented the lead straight back when Amorosino knocked on and McCall got the better of former Ulsterman BJ Botha at the scrum but Jackson's penalty fell underneath the crossbar. Munster seemed to have matters very much in hand during the closing moments but a comedy of errors saw Ulster's young out-half handed one more chance to make a telling impact.
His touchfinder, after Holland was caught holding on, lacked the required force to set the hosts up for a final attempt to maul their way over the line but in an effort to keep the ball inside the touchline Amorosino knocked on.
When van den Heever gathered the loose ball, he did so from an offside position and the penalty went to Ulster.
Having seen his earlier attempt come up short, Jackson's kick this time lacked both accuracy and distance.
After Keatley cleared, there would be one final chance to rescue the seemingly lost situation but McCloskey was held up in the tackle to spark celebrations from the men in red.
With other results over the weekend, Ulste have now fallen to sixth in the Pro12 standings ahead of a three-week run of crucial Champions Cup action that begins with the trip to Oyonnax on Sunday.
ULSTER: L Ludik; A Trimble, L Marshall, S McCloskey, R Scholes; P Jackson, R Pienaar; K McCall, R Best (captain), W Herbst; L Stevenson, F van der Merwe; R Diack, C Henry, N Williams.
Replacements: R Herring (for Williams, 71), C Black (for McCall, 64), R Lutton (for Herbst, 35), A O'Connor (for Stevenson, 53), R Wilson (for Diack, 53), P Marshall (for Pienaar, 71), I Humphreys, S Arnold (for Marshall, 54).
Try: Louis Ludik Con: Paddy Jackson
MUNSTER: LG Amorosino; G van den Heever, F Saili, R Scannell, R O'Mahony; I Keatley, T O'Leary; D Kilcoyne, M Sherry, BJ Botha; B Holland, M Chisholm; J O'Donoghue, T O'Donnell, CJ Stander (captain).
Replacements: N Scannell (for Sherry, 56), J Ryan (for Botha, 71), M Sagario, S Buckley, R Copeland (for O'Donnell, 56), D Williams (for O'Leary, 57), T Bleyendaal, D Hurley (for R Scannell, 57)
Pens: Ian Keatley (2) Drop goal: Ian Keatley
Star man: Keatley