Munster end their losing streak with gutsy victory over Ulster

Ulster scored the only try of the match, but Ian Keatley stepped

Ulster, Munster, Pro12

Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

It was a damp afternoon at the Kingspan Stadium as Ulster and Munster went head to head, with Anthony Foley's side glad to see the end of a "horrendous" December

While the weather wasn't quite as bad as last night's clash between Leinster and Connacht, it still made life difficult in terms of handling the ball and kicking, as Paddy Jackson may rue two missed opportunities that fell short as he hit into the wind. 

However, his opposite number Ian Keatley made no such mistakes, and looked a different player to the one who was treated to the boos of the home fans just a few short weeks ago

A win this afternoon will help to improve that atmosphere amongst fans, which was on the verge of turning sour. While results weren't coming, the performances weren't good enough either, as they made crucial mistakes at the wrong times, in particular in not being "ruthless" enough up front, as their own manager put it. 

This time out they absorbed much of the pressure from Ulster, and while they still lacked the cutting edge to score a try, Keatley was unerring from the tee as well as with a drop goal. His kicks to relieve pressure were also fantastic, finding spots in behind the defence on a regular basis and getting valuable territory. 

Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

For most of the second half, it was Ulster who were applying the pressure, and the platform for Munster's victory was almost certainly built on that resilience and a high tackle count. 

They were, however, unable to stop Louis Ludik going over the line in the 24th minute. There was some controversy over the score, as several phases earlier the ball had struck Ruen Pienaar in the leg and was collected by Chris Henry in an offside position. Despite that it was awarded, and Jackson slotted over the conversion to give them a 7-3 lead, with Keatley having hit a penalty for Munster in the ninth minute. 

Image: ©INPHO/Presseye/Matt Mackey

That's the way it stayed until half-time, and Ulster picked up where they left off after the break, putting further pressure on the Munster men for much of the opening exchanges. Keatley's kicking offered the only real wins in terms of territory, as they were penned into their own half. 

Several mistakes in the lineout, including Mark Chisolm being dropped and landing awkwardly, cost them position in key areas, but Ulster were unable to capitalise. A smart decision to take a drop goal after a rare foray into Ulster territory narrowed the gap to 7-6, and Keatley's confidence began to grow as he showed an ability to manage the game when under pressure. 

Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

Another penalty off a maul just three minutes later at the 61' mark saw Munster go back into the lead over their hosts by a scoreline of 7-9, which is how it ended at the final whistle. 

There were a few more twists and turns to come however, and despite the win, Foley will still be taking a long hard look at the mistakes his team made that may well have cost them on another day. Some bizarre decisions from Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino put them under serious pressure on a number of occasions, in particular as the final whistle approached; he made the poor decision to try and keep the ball in and pass it backwards, only to knock it on and give Paddy Jackson a chance at a penalty. 

Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

Not for the first time in that half, Jackson's effort fell short thanks to a strong breeze, but it could so easily have been different for Ulster. Les Kiss will be pleased with the fact that, despite big pressure from Munster in the early stages and towards the end of the second half, they were unable to find a gap and score a try against his defence, although it will be little consolation for his side as they slip to fifth in the table, behind Munster. 

Munster's Francis Saili and Nick Williams of Ulster pray at the final whistle. Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

The end of a losing run in December will be a very welcome start to the New Year for Foley and his team, but the errors and lack of ability to score a try (just one in their last three matches) will remain a worry as they look ahead to a tough run of fixtures in Europe this January.