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Ulster's Pro14 Playoff hopes end with 24-24 draw against Munster

Munster Rugby 24 - Ulster Rugby 24

By Adam McKendry

Ulster's slim Guinness PRO14 playoff hopes ended as they could only manage a 24-24 draw at Thomond Park against interprovincial rivals Munster on Saturday.

Despite scoring three tries before the break and showing plenty of forward dominance, Ulster didn’t score in the second half as the hosts fought back to level proceedings, and now the Kingspan side will have to qualify for next season’s Champions Cup in a playoff with the Ospreys.

The game couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start for the visitors as scrum-half Duncan Williams capitalised on Dave Shanahan’s slow play at the back of a ruck to cross after just 110 seconds, Robin Copeland forcing the knock on and Williams getting the score.

An immediate response was needed and Ulster got it, Jacob Stockdale making the break after Darren Sweetnam narrowly missed an interception, and the winger offloaded to Stuart McCloskey for the try.

Johnny McPhillips converted, and then added a penalty, but Munster were the next to strike as a loose kick allowed Sweetnam to sear through right to the line and, although he was stopped short, prop Brian Scott smashed his way over from close range.

Ulster also lost lock Iain Henderson to a nasty and worrying looking injury, while McCloskey was also withdrawn with a head knock.

However, a yellow card to Munster No.8 Copeland turned the tide at the end of the first half and Ulster turned their maul dominance into two tries from lineout drives, both coming from captain Rory Best.

The momentum shifted straight after the interval though as Ulster got a yellow card of their own, centre Luke Marshall cynically infringing, and Copeland, fresh back from the sin bin, powered over from close range.

Despite all their second half dominance, Munster couldn’t find their way over the line as Ulster’s defence stood up tall on more than one occasion, although JJ Hanrahan did level matters with just over ten minutes to play.

Ulster did have a chance to win it in the latter stages, driving at the Munster defence with the last plays, however the lineout which had failed them all game coughed up possession in the final phase and the chance was lost, both to win the game and make the playoffs.

The scorers

For Munster

Tries: Williams, Scott, Copeland

Cons: Hanrahan (3)

Pen: Hanrahan

For Ulster

Tries: McCloskey, Best (2)

Cons: McPhillips (3)

Pen: McPhillips

MUNSTER RUGBY

(15-9) Stephen Fitzgerald, Calvin Nash, Sammy Arnold, Dan Goggin, Darren Sweetnam, JJ Hanrahan, Duncan Williams (James Hart 57); (1-8) James Cronin, Mike Sherry (Rhys Marshall 57), Brian Scott (Stephen Archer 40), Gerbrandt Grobler, Darren O’Shea (Jean Kleyn 47), Dave O’Callaghan, Conor Oliver (Jack O’Donoghue 47), Robin Copeland.

Subs not used: Jeremy Loughman, Bill Johnston, Shane Daly.

Yellow card: Robin Copeland (33’)

ULSTER RUGBY

(15-9) Louis Ludik, Craig Gilroy (Tommy Bowe 69), Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey (Angus Curtis 29), Jacob Stockdale, Johnny McPhillips, David Shanahan (Paul Marshall 45); (1-8) Callum Black (Andy Warwick 55), Rory Best (Rob Herring 69), Ross Kane (Tom O’Toole 64), Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (Kieran Treadwell 23), Clive Ross, Sean Reidy, Nick Timoney (Chris Henry 72).

Yellow card: Luke Marshall (48’)

Man of the Match: James Cronin (Munster)

Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)

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