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Timid finish to season as Munster lose quarter-final

URC quarter final:

Ulster 36, Munster 17
WHEN Peter O’Mahony knocked on from the Ulster kick-off to start tonight’s URC quarter-final game in Kingspan Stadium in Belfast one got a feeling that this was not going to be Munster’s night. At the press day earlier this week there was an air of optimism that the disappointments of the Toulouse and Leinster games had been dealt with and the squad were ‘rarin’ to go’ but for the third game in succession the red jerseys left the arena with their heads down.
If we thought that the loss to a second string Leinster was hard to take, tonight’s display was probably Munster’s worst performance of the season. It was error-strewn with the number of knock-ons almost hitting double figures, a defence that looked porous and over the 80 minutes it was light years away from the spirited display that sent Exeter packing in Thomond Park. There didn’t appear to be any leadership on the pitch and it was most unlike this Munster team to concede a try a few minutes after the re-start when they were trailing 19-7 at half time. Sadly, losing home advantage was a key factor and no doubt if this quarter final was played in Thomond Park the result may have been different.
Ulster took the lead in unusual circumstances, John Cooney gliding over while two Munster players appeared to be entangled in a bit of ‘handbags’ off the ball. Cooney, who was playing for the province for the 100th time, popped over the conversion. Munster replied with a try from Jean Kleyn converted by Carbery and at 7-7 with 18 minutes played, this game already looked like it might go down to the wire. Ulster thought differently and they scored a fantastic try, running the ball after Carbery took a big hit from Rob Baloucoune and full-back Stewart Moore was awarded a touchdown after a TMO check. Cooney again added the extras for a 14-7 lead on 25 minutes.
Eight minutes before the break it was 19-7 to the home side when Stewart Moore scored his second try and his side were full value for their 12-point half time lead. Munster needed to score first but the next score also went to Ulster when back-row Nick Timoney hared away unopposed under the posts and Cooney had the easy task of adding the two points as the lead increased to 26-7 on 43 minutes. Munster had their best spell after that, Gavin Coombes had a glorious chance to touch down but the TMO disallowed it for a knock-on but the visitors scored their second try on 52 minutes when Keith Earls dived over but Carbery’s conversion went wide of the right hand post. Another Cooney penalty increased the Ulster lead to 29-12 and worse was to follow when centre James Hume crashed through a weak Munster defence and Doak’s conversion put the tie beyond the visitors at 36-12 going into the last quarter.
Munster looked ragged in those closing stages and although Keith Earls got his second try it was little consolation for a side that promised so much throughout the season only to fade away when it mattered most.
Ulster: Stewart Moore, Rob Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Ethan McIlroy, Billy Burns, John Cooney, Andrew Warwick, Rob Herring, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (c), Marcus Rea, Nick Timoney, Duane Vermeulen. Replacements: John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Gareth Milasinovich, Kieran Treadwell, Matty Rea, Nathan Doak, Ian Madigan, Ben Moxham.
Munster: Mike Haley, Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende, Keith Earls, Joey Carbery, Conor Murray, Josh Wycherley, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer, Jean Kleyn, Fineen Wycherley, Peter O’Mahony (c), Alex Kendellen, Gavin Coombes. Replacements: Diarmuid Barron, Jeremy Loughman, John Ryan, Jason Jenkins, Thomas Ahern, Craig Casey, Ben Healy, Chris Cloete.

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