Ulster's bench proves crucial as they edge out Munster

Ulster dominated territory, but were looking frustrated until Nick Timoney eventually broke the visitors' resolve. (Pictured: Cormac Izukchukwu/Credit: Brian Little)
Ulster dominated territory, but were looking frustrated until Nick Timoney eventually broke the visitors' resolve. (Pictured: Cormac Izukchukwu/Credit: Brian Little) (Brian Little)

Ulster move to third in the United Rugby Championship after a thrilling 21-14 victory over last year’s champions Munster at Kingspan Stadium.

Tries from Jacob Stockdale and Nick Timoney countered a brace from Munster scrum-half Craig Casey. Nathan Doak finished the game with 11 points from the boot.

Ulster held on by the skin of their teeth in the closing minutes, with Rob Herring making his 230th and record-breaking appearance, delivering the deciding turnover.

Munster started the game at pace and really rattled the home side with emphatic drives through the guts of the Ulster defence. With the men in white conceding penalty after penalty, it was somewhat inevitable when Casey sped over off the back of a scrum to dot down in the ninth minute, with returning international Jack Crowley adding the conversion.

Full-back Ethan McIlroy almost immediately responded for Ulster but he was denied by Shane Daly on the line. The impact of the challenge saw McIlroy leave the pitch and Daly sin-binned. Despite being a man to the good, it was Munster who continued to pressure the home defence.

This pressure told when Casey scampered over for his second try of the game on 18 minutes. Crowley again successful in adding the extras.

Despite struggling for the majority of the half, Ulster responded as Stockdale grabbed his fourth try of the campaign when he collected Billy Burns kick to the corner and raced over the line. Doak was unlucky with the conversion, but Ulster would have been relieved to only be 14-8 down at the break.

Doak was on target early in the second period to bring the scores back to three. McFarland introduced returning Ireland duo Iain Henderson and Herring, 10 minutes into the second half to bring some much needed ballast into the home pack.

Two powerful runs by Henderson in his first 60 seconds on the pitch had the crowd on their feet as the tide began to turn. Ulster drew level on 63 minutes when Doak struck a superb long-range penalty after Munster were penalised at the breakdown.

Ulster’s scrum was now beginning to dominate, in no small part due to tighthead replacement Scott Wilson. The Queens’ player was a shock call-up to the side but more than met expectations with a powerful display in the tight and the loose.

Ulster had the wind in their sails and Rob Baloucoune thought he had gotten over after sub Dave Ewers took a quick throw, but referee Frank Murphy brought play back.

The hosts made no mistake on their next attack. With 11 minutes to play, Nick Timoney bundled his way over off the back of a scrum. Doak made no mistake from the tee.

Munster knocked and banged on the Ulster door in search for a crucial score but they could not succeed.

It was fitting that Herring, on his record-breaking appearance, won the decisive turnover that secured the game for Ulster.

Captain Tom Stewart, speaking to RTÉ post match, was particularly satisfied with his fellow hooker Herring, and debutant Scott Wilson:

"It was a really special win for the boys, a super D (defence) set at the end to seal it off, and that’s what interpros are all about.

"They’re tight games, you’re playing the best teams in the league, and we’re delighted to get away with that one.

"I just want to say I’m personally delighted for Scotty (Wilson) and I’m delighted for Rob (Herring), an unbelievable achievement for both of them. 

"For Scott to make his first cap and Rob to be the most capped Ulster player of all time, it’s a credit to them both.

"They both played a big role in getting that win tonight and they can both be very proud."

Ulster: Ethan McIlroy, Rob Baloucoune, Stewart Moore, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale; Billy Burns, Nathan Doak; Eric O'Sullivan, Tom Stewart (capt), Greg McGrath; Cormac Izuchukwu, Kieran Treadwell; Marcus Rea, David McCann, Nick Timoney.

Replacements: Callum Reid, Rob Herring, Scott Wilson, Iain Henderson, Dave Ewers, John Cooney, Jake Flannery, Ben Moxham, Jude Postlethwaite.

Munster: Shane Daly; Calvin Nash, Antoine Frisch, Alex Nankivell, Seán O'Brien; Jack Crowley, Craig Casey; Jeremy Loughman, Diarmuid Barron (capt), John Ryan; Edwin Edogbo, Fineen Wycherley; Alex Kendellen, John Hodnett, Gavin Coombes.

Replacements: Scott Buckley, Josh Wycherley, Stephen Archer, Tom Ahern, Brian Gleeson, Paddy Patterson, Rory Scannell, Ben O'Connor.