A bonus point victory at Kanturk over Ulster sees Munster setup a winner takes all next week at Castleisland against Connacht.
Munster 34, Ulster 15.
The Munster Juniors were full of confidence following their victory away to Leinster and it showed as they put in a very impressive display at Kanturk to overcome a spirited Ulster side. The home side had a vocal crowd behind them with supporters from all parts of the province present including Ireland Head Coach Declan Kidney.
The home side had to withstand a lot of pressure in the first half but their attacking efficiency combined with a superb defensive display saw them take the lead going into half-time while the strength of the bench allowed them to pull away in the end.
Despite playing into the wind Munster made a strong start in the first half. They applied early pressure in Ulster territory. Having been awarded a line-out, outside the Twenty-Two, Gearoid Phelan; who was to go on to have a magnificent game, secured ball at the back. The forwards took it on, sucking in Ulster defenders before the ball was swiftly shifted out to the right. Some lovely interplay ended with Greg Carroll coming in from the far wing to take the ball and cut through a hole in the Ulster defence to score. His Clonmel team-mate Ben Martin was unfortunate with the conversion which swayed just wide.
Munster continued to be on top after the try. Eighteen year old scrum-half Aaron Daly was providing quality ball and was a livewire while the voices of the local supporters rose any time Kanturk winger Peter Earlie got his hands on the ball.
As the half wore on, the visitors came more into the game and were spending more time inside the Munster Twenty-Two. Their strong pack was making hard yards around the fringes while they had some dangerous runners with Gary Clotworthy making a couple of notable breaks. Munster defended their line heroically but were conceding numerous penalties, although the Northerners were unable to punish them with a couple of kicks missed. Finally the breakthrough did come with prop forward Aaron Ramage getting over the line after David Sharkey made a break off the back of an attacking scrum to leave the scores level at five each.
It was the least the visitors deserved after dominating proceedings for the previous twenty minutes, but Munster responded in fine fashion as they went back on the front foot in the remaining minutes of the half. They had a good platform with a scrum just outside the opposition Twenty-Two. They probed around the fringes before Daly made a quick break and off-loaded to the on-rushing Martin who dived in under the posts. Martin made no mistake with the conversion to leave Munster hold a 12-5 lead at half-time. Unfortunately it wasn't all good news as Daly injured himself in the process and had to be replaced by Ruairi Geary at half-time. Ben Martin extended both his personal tally and Munster's lead early on in the second half but this was soon cancelled out by Ulster's first successful kick, as a change in kicker saw Gary Clotworthy bring the score back to 15-8.
Munster's bench began to impose themselves on the game as the second half wore on. Local Kanturk prop Brian O'Neill was having a huge game both in the loose and at scrum-time while last weekend's try scorer Ian Fitzgerald once again showed his scoring prowess with a brace of tries in the middle of the half.
The first one can be attributed to a superb break from Richmond prop Alex Simpson who made a great burst around the fringe past the Ulster defence and into the Twenty-Two. He had the awareness to off-load the ball with Fitzgerald finishing off the move with Martin successfully converting. Fitzgerald's second try came with a strong solid scrum in the Ulster Twenty-Two. Geary took the ball on and made a break on the blindside, taking out Ulster's defender with Fitzgerald on hand to receive the pass and finish off the move.
Ulster showed great pride and determination and struck back when their full-back Cormac McCartney made an intercept on the Twenty-Two to go in under the posts with Clotworthy converting. The visitors continued to press with ten minutes to go and only some last ditch defending kept them at bay and prevent them from threatening what would have been a big comeback.
With time almost up, the Ulster siege was lifted and Munster pressed again. It was another replacement on one of Fitzgerald's St Senan's teammates, Fergal Lawlor who used his low centre of gravity and immense power to drive over the line. Martin converted to give Munster a well deserved 34-15 victory.
Next up will be the Title decider against reigning champions Connacht in Castleisland. Connacht defeated Leinster 24-18 in a hard-fought affair at Loughrea.
Munster: Ian Fitzgerald 2 tries, Ben Martin try, 3 cons, pen, Greg Carroll, Fergal Lawlor tries. Ulster: Gary Clotworthy try, pen, Aaron Ramage try, Cormac McCartney con. Munster: Ben Martin (Clonmel); Greg Carroll (Clonmel), Murray Kinsella (Waterpark), Darren O'Keeffe (Crosshaven), Peter Earlie (Kanturk); Morgan Lyons (Clonmel), Aaron Daly (Youghal); Alex Simpson (Richmond), Mike Cronin (Castleisland), Michael McInerny (Ennis); Stephen Burke (Galbally), Sean Walsh (Clanwilliam); Brian O'Sullivan capt (Tralee), Gearoid Phelan (Richmond), Dan McCabe (Kanturk). Replacements: Patrick Ryan (St Senan’s), Fergal Lawlor (St. Senan’s), Brian O'Neill (Kanturk), Brian Lyons (Thurles), Ian Fitzgerald (St Senan’s), Ruairi Geary(Cobh Pirates), Jeffrey McNamara (Richmond). Ulster: Cormac McCartney (Ballymoney); Phil Cartmill (Cooke), Gary Clotworthy (Ballyclare), P.C. Falconer (Clogher Valley), Chris Cousens (Portadown); Ben Henderson (Ballymoney), Scott Nelson (Ballymoney); Aaron Ramage (Ballymoney), Mal Allister (Portadown), Phillip Moore (Clogher Valley); Matthew Robinson (Clogher Valley), Stephen McReynolds (CIYMS); Kenny McCombe (Donaghadee), David Campbell (Ballymoney), David Sharkey (Clogher Valley). Replacements: Rick Press (Academy), Mark Smyth (Omagh), Danny Laird (Academy), Chris Hamilton (Donaghadee), Andrew Kelly (Grosvenor), James Bates (Clogher Valley), Alan Whitcroft (UUC). Referee: K Collins (IRFU)
Munster Rugby Elite Development Officer Colm McMahon and Coach Development Officer Keith Murphy recently travelled to Bosun Sports Complex, on the outskirts of Stockholm, to assist with the newly developed Sweden Rugby Union's Academy programme.