Ulster 24-17 Munster: Home side produce thrilling PRO14 comeback against 14 men
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 01/01/18 8:01pm
Ulster produced a thrilling comeback as they came from 17-0 down to defeat 14-man Munster 24-17 in their Guinness PRO14 clash at the Kingspan in Belfast.
A first-half Niall Scannell brace and penalty try had Munster 17 points to the good at the break.
Darren Cave's try, with Munster already down to 14 men, was followed by a controversial straight red card to Munster centre Sam Arnold, reducing the away side to 13.
From there, two further tries from Craig Gilroy and another in the final minute of the match from Rob Lyttle saw Ulster bank an unlikely bonus-point victory.
Munster had the first chance of the match after Jean Deysel went off his feet at the breakdown, but JJ Hanrahan stepped up and missed the fairly central kick.
The visitors continued to dominate proceedings, however, in an ultra-physical display and on 14 minutes went over for the opening score.
After a series of Ulster indiscretions, Munster worked their way up the pitch before kicking a penalty to the corner, and from the set-piece, Scannell was at the back of a powerful maul for the opening try.
A little over 10 minutes later and Scannell went over again from another maul in the exact same part of the pitch.
After Munster won a dominant scrum penalty, they kicked to the corner and once again their attacking maul was too much for Ulster to handle, with Scannell the man to flop over the line once more.
Hanrahan's poor kicking kept Ulster in the game, as he missed his third kick of the match, and on 28 minutes Ulster had a huge chance to get back into the game.
A wonderful Christian Lealiifano penalty kick from hand to the corner set up a five-metre attacking lineout, but Munster lock Darren O'Shea rose to steal the ball in a critical area of the pitch.
Seven minutes later and Munster had their third try on the scoreboard courtesy of a penalty try, after a series of magnificent scrums marched the Ulster eight back over their own tryline.
The final minute of the half saw UIster awarded a kickable penalty on the Munster 22 but skipper Rob Herring elected to go to the corner for another five-metre attacking lineout.
Once again Munster defended strongly as Jack O'Donoghue fought his way through the middle of the maul to push it out into touch and ensure the away side went in at the half 17-0 ahead.
On 51 minutes Ulster thought they were over for their first try of the game through John Cooney, but on review with the TMO the score was ruled out as flanker Greg Jones was penalised for holding Munster prop John Ryan beyond the ruck.
On 55 minutes, Munster replacement lock Fineen Wycherley was sent to the sin-bin for failing to roll away after a series of team infringements.
Three minutes later and Ulster finally scored their first points of the match through Cave as he broke through from midfield.
The score proved a double whammy for Munster as centre Arnold was given a red card for a high tackle on Lealiifano earlier in the move, reducing the visitors to 13 men.
On 62 minutes, Gilroy was over with Munster still down to 13 men as Cave's intelligent kick was pounced upon by the winger as Munster replacement Stephen Fitzgerald dawdled.
With five minutes remaining Ulster drew level as Gilroy went over in the corner from a Lealiifano long pass, and Cooney's conversion gave them the lead for the first time.
The final minute of the match saw Lyttle race up the touchline and dive over to clinch the full five match point haul and try bonus point, as Munster were left to ponder what happened after the most dominant of opening periods.