Rugby: PRO14 Rainbow Cup: Munster 38 Ulster 10
ANY slim hopes that Ulster might end the season with some silverware were dashed when they went down 38-10 to Munster in last night's PRO14 Rainbow Cup clash at Thomond Park in Limerick.
It was Dan McFarland's side's third defeat on the bounce following an opening loss to Connacht in the same competition and last week's European Challenge Cup semi-final reverse against Leicester Tigers.
They were outscored by six tries to one last night, their cause not helped by ill-discipline as Will Addison was sent off on the stroke of half-time for a reckless tackle.
Ulster started well however and, after some early pressure, they were awarded a penalty in the second minute and Michael Lowry, taking over the kicking duties with John Cooney injured, made no mistake to break the deadlock.
Tempers became frayed shortly afterwards with Addison and Munster's Rory Scannell getting involved in some handbags, nothing serious but enough for referee Craig Evans to speak to both captains.
Conor Murray was then hit off the ball and JJ Hanrahan kicked the resulting penalty into the Ulster 22 and Munster took advantage after subsequently earning a scrum, Rory Scannell going over on 10 minutes for Hanrahan to convert.
Munster were clearly buoyed by that score and proceeded to dominate for the rest of the first quarter, forcing mistakes with Ethan McIlroy knocking on and conceding the scrum.
To Ulster's relief, their hosts spilled the ball when five metres from the try-line and Hanrahan went off his feet when trying to turn the ball over and the danger was averted.
The visitors then earned a scrum on half-way and, after two resets, they enjoyed a spell of pressure but it was all in vain when they were turned over and conceded a penalty which Munster kicked deep into opposition territory.
Once again, Ulster survived but then Lowry kicked wastefully over the dead ball line allowing Munster to regain possession from a scrum on the half-way line.
That error ultimately proved costly as Murray got the second try of the night in the 27th minute.
He touched down in the corner after an overlap down the left-hand side which saw Chris Cloete held up for his scrum-half to pick up the pieces although Hanrahan missed the conversion.
Ulster continued to be under the cosh and it took some fine work by Jacob Stockdale to prevent another try as he won the race with Munster winger Shane Daly to rescue the situation after a clever kick ahead by Hanrahan.
Ulster then another let-off when Hanrahan missed a straightforward penalty from under the posts three minutes from the break.
Things went from bad to worse in the dying seconds of the first-half when Addison was rightly shown a red card for a reckless tackle on Rory Scannell's head after leading with his elbow.
Under the Rainbow Cup's new rules, while Addison's game was over, he was allowed to be replaced 20 minutes following his dismissal.
From the next play, Addison's former Sale Sharks team mate Mike Haley went over from the subsequent penalty and lineout for Hanrahan to add the extras and leave Munster with a thoroughly deserved 19-3 interval lead.
McFarland wasted no time in ringing the changes, introducing five subs at the start of the second-half including an all-new front row.
It took Ulster just four minutes to register their first try, skipper Iain Henderson celebrating his Lions call-up as he crossed from close range following a trademark lineout driving maul and Lowry nailed the difficult conversion to make it 10-19.
But any hopes Ulster might have had of a comeback were dashed in the space of four minutes not much later when Munster added two more tries.
Rory Scannell got the first of them running half the length of the pitch after intercepting Lowry's attempted pass to Dave Shanahan in the 55th minute with Hanrahan converting.
The fly-half then went over himself after some poor Ulster defending and he again added the extras to make it 33-10.
Ulster enjoyed a period of sustained dominance thereafter but Munster defended well and then added try number six through Andrew Conway with a minute left to complete the rout.
Munster 38 Ulster10
Munster: R Scannell (2), Murray, Haley, Hanrahan, Conway
Munster: Hanrahan (4)
Munster: Haley; Conway, Goggin, R Scannell, Daly; Hanrahan, Murray; Kilcoyne, N Scannell, Ryan; Wycherley, Beirne; O'Mahony (capt), Cloete, Coombes.
Replacements: O'Byrne, Loughman, Salanoa, Kleyn, Stander, McCarthy, Healy, De Allende.
Ulster: Stockdale; Lyttle, Addison, McCloskey, McIlroy, Lowry, Mathewson; Warwick, Andrew, O'Toole, O'Connor, Henderson (capt); Murphy, Rea, McCann.
Replacements: Herring, Reid, Moore, Carter, Timoney, Shanahan, Curtis, Hume.