Lack lustre Ulster are toppled by fired-up Munster
Ulster 14 Munster 15
Munster knocked Ulster off the top of the Guinness PRO12 table with a late come from behind victory at Kingspan Stadium last night.
The visitors - who have not lost to their northern neighbours in five games - won for the second time since the tragic passing of their head coach Anthony Foley a fortnight ago after a late drop goal from Rory Scannell gave them their first lead of the contest and a 15-14 win.
Ulster had led 14-0 after first-half tries from Charles Piutau and Rob Lyttle but they failed to score for the final 55 minutes of the contest and slumped to a first home defeat of the season, in the process surrendering back-to-back PRO12 games for the first time since February.
Ulster lost Jacob Stockdale to a hand injury before kick-off, necessitating a late addition to the bench in the shape of Lyttle, and the young wing was pressed into action in the opening minutes when Darren Cave departed.
Not, however, before the hosts had taken the lead.
With just five minutes on the clock, Paddy Jackson sent a cross-field kick to the touchline and Craig Gilroy, with both Andrew Conway and Darren Sweetnam for company, got up to palm the ball down to Piutau.
From there, the All Black had the simple task of dotting down for his first ever PRO12 try.
It was Piutau who gave Munster a shot at the posts with a high tackle but, after a previous drop goal attempt had been skewed wide, Ian Keatley's effort was horribly off line.
Munster were dominating but errors in the '22' were undoing plenty of hard yards from the forwards and, as the game entered its second quarter, Ulster were almost in for another try when Pienaar took control of a maul gaining little traction and went wide.
Ulster appeared to have the numbers but, in Piutau's attempts to draw the defender, he left little space for the offload and Gilroy knocked on.
Les Kiss's men would double their score soon after when a strong kick-chase pressured Munster into conceding a line-out deep in their own territory. The visitors were pinged soon after and Ulster again went for the corner with boss Rassie Erasmus sure to have plenty to say about what happened next.
After a maul went to ground, a Munster boot through the ruck directed the ball into the arms of Lyttle.
The 19-year-old, who had originally planned to play for Queen's against Corinthians in the All-Ireland League this weekend, squirted through poor tackles from both Tommy O'Donnell and Keatley and dived across the line.
Ulster's resistance would not hold until half-time, Munster registering their first points of the contest with the clock having turned red.
Both Jaco Taute and Sweetnam took advantage of missed tackles in the Ulster midfield and, when the latter worked the overlap well, Scannell was over in the corner.
Keatley's frustrating night continued with a missed conversion and his luck was no better after the turn when an early penalty came back off the post.
It would be his last kick of the night as Munster then turned to Scannell in what was ultimately a match-winning decision.
Taute, the Springbok who was so impressive in the emotional win over Glasgow a week ago, appeared to have got his break when Sweetnam's turnover sent him scampering into space but his compatriot Pienaar got back to cover and Marshall finished the job.
The resistance would soon be broken, however, and Taute was to the fore again.
Another series of pick and goes from the forwards this time saw Munster retain possession and a determined finish from the South African saw him wriggle between Wiehahn Herbst and Rob Herring from close range.
With Scannell now handed the tee, he reduced the arrears to a single point.
Another frantic end-game seemed in the offing for Ulster but Jackson soon had a chance to ease the tension with an eminently kickable penalty won by Piutau.
An untimely firework punctured the silence as the number ten approached the ball and his wry smile after the ball sailed off target told the story.
With five minutes remaining, Munster would make them pay with Scannell's drop goal.
While last week's similar effort from Exeter and Gareth Steenson sparked an Ulster comeback, this time Jackson's response, from a much greater distance, veered right of the posts.
When Tommy Bowe failed to gather a Dan Tuohy pass on the right touchline, Ulster's chance to stage another late rescue was gone.
Ulster: C Piutau; T Bowe, L Marshall, D Cave, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar; C Black, R Herring (c), W Herbst; D Tuohy, F van der Merwe; R Diack, S Reidy, R Wilson. Replacements: J Andrew, K McCall (for Black, 57), A Warwick (for Herbst, 65), C Ross (for Wilson, 28), C Joyce (for Diack, 70), P Marshall (for Pienaar, 75), B Herron, R Lyttle (for Cave, 8)
Munster: A Conway; D Sweetnam, J Taute, R Scannell, R O'Mahony; I Keatley, D Williams; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, J Ryan; D Ryan, B Holland; P O'Mahony (c), T O'Donnell, J O'Donoghue. Replacements: V O'Brien, B Scott, S Archer, D O'Shea, R Copeland (for O'Donnell, 60), A Griesel, A Wootton (for Conway, 60), D Goggin (for Keatley, 68)
Referee: Nigel Owens
Man of the match: 7/10