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Ulster 'A' given food for thought ahead of Cup decider after disappointing defeat

Ulster 'A' 12-31 Munster 'A'

Going down: Munster’s Jack O’Sullivan is tackled by Ethan McIlroy of Ulster
Going down: Munster’s Jack O’Sullivan is tackled by Ethan McIlroy of Ulster

By Michael Sadlier

It was a strange one really. Only the second defeat for head coach Kieran Campbell's side in the Celtic Cup and yet that didn't matter regarding Ulster's final placing in the table.

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The way things had worked out, Ulster had already secured second and made it to next weekend's Celtic Cup final against Leinster thanks to the southern province having dispatched Connacht - the only team who could have denied Ulster a runner-up finish - earlier in the day.

Even so, this defeat will have stung for Campbell and his squad as they prepare to do battle with Leinster in Dublin, particularly as Munster's powerful direct plays undid the hosts who were simply just too inaccurate in crucial areas at key times.

Indeed, Ulster had led 5-0 at half-time before Munster scored four second-half tries to secure only their second win.

It may have been a big ask for Ulster to keep their focus knowing they had already booked their presence in the final but this was still too low-key a way to end their penultimate game.

Indeed, it took 33 minutes before any score was registered and, in fairness, when it came it was a peach.

Skipper David McCann's quick transfer to the lively Graham Curtis coming in on an angle created the line bust and when Ulster recycled and spun the ball at pace, Angus Kernohan's transfer to McCann saw the move's originator surge over.

Bruce Houston's conversion was wide but that was the only score of the half. All seemed set fair for Ulster to take more control in the second 40 minutes.

It wasn't to be, though, as Munster's pack and attacking shape - almost always involving one-out runners - put a stranglehold on the game.

No.8 Jack O'Sullivan got over first, with Ben Healy converting, though Munster's lead was short-lived as Curtis' intercept, on his own line, saw the winger sprint the length of the field to plant the ball under the sticks.

Houston's conversion put Ulster 12-7 up but, from there, it was all Munster.

Lock Cian Hurley was next for Munster, Healy slotting the conversion and a subsequent penalty to put the visitors 17-12 in front.

A strong and direct run by centre Alex McHenry brought Munster's third, this time replacement Jack Crowley added the two points, and he did so again from a tight angle when winger Sean French - Ulster now being down to 14 men due to Joe Dunleavy's yellow card - used his strength to smash in at the corner for the bonus point.

Now Ulster must regroup for next weekend's final against a Leinster side who saw them off 55-24 in last month's round four. Campbell and Willie Anderson have some work to do.

Ulster 'A': E McIlroy; A Kernohan, H Hyde, B Power, G Curtis; B Houston, J Stewart; T O'Hagan, Z McCall, A Warwick, D O'Connor, J Regan, J Dunleavy, D McCann (Capt), Marcus Rea.

Replacements: T Stewart, C Reid, P Cooper, M Dalton, JJ McKee, N Doak, L Pollock, C Rankin.

Munster 'A': A Tynan; S French, A McHenry, J Delaney, L Coombes; B Healy (Capt), C Casey; C Barrett, K O'Shea, B Scott; S O'Connor, C Hurley; C Oliver, J Daly, J O'Sullivan.

Replacements: D O'Connor, M Donnelly, J Kendrick, L Clohessy, J Hodnett, J Stafford, J Crowley, J Shanahan

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