A Munster knock-on in the opening seconds gave Ulster an early territorial advantage, but this was quickly relinquished with a similar fumble of the slippery ball among the Ulster ranks. Alert ball-tracking and closing down by the home side soon had the Munstermen pegged back in their own half, and an exhilarating burst from Spence took Ulster to just metres from the line on six minutes before the youngster was brought to ground.
Intelligent recycling gave Ian Humphreys the opportunity to dink a testing kick into the corner as referee Alan Lewis signalled an impending penalty, but the ball eluded all the white shirts on the right wing and play was brought back for Ruan Pienaar to put over the first points of the evening.
The right boot of Paul Warwick levelled matters on 10 minutes with a penalty from the '22', but Ulster were soon asking serious questions of the Munster defence once again when Willie Faloon charged down a desperate clearance attempt and barged for the line. Munster resisted the ensuing onslaught of white-jerseyed forwards well, but eventually infringed once more and gave Pienaar licence to slot over three more points, putting the score at Ulster 6 Munster 3 on 16 minutes.
A patchy period of play ensued with both teams struggling to impose any rhythm on the game, until an askew clearance kick gave Ulster an unexpected line-out on the opponents' 10-metre line. Patient build-up play with good work particularly from Paddy McAllister in the middle of the park forced a further infringement from Munster, but this time Pienaar's aim was not quite so true, and the score remained static until the interval.
Half-Time Score Ulster 6 Munster 3
The start of the second period was a mirror image of that of the first, with an Ulster knock-on this time giving the visitors the scrum in a promising position. This quickly led to the concession of a penalty in front of the posts, dispatched by Warwick to level the game at Ulster 6 Munster 6.
Play continued along its somewhat disjointed path with neither team able to hold on to the ball for enough time to pose any serious threat, and with both out-halves endeavouring to dictate the game with the boot. Then, when Munster pressure down the left flank broke down in the 56thminute, Ulster advanced quickly and set up camp in the opposing half for a good five minutes, searching for an opening which, despite their best efforts, never came.
As the encounter entered its final 10 minutes, Ulster were penalised for coming in from the side and Warwick's kick from the 10-metre line put his side into the lead for the first time in the match at Ulster 6 Munster 9.
A poor Warwick drop-kick attempt on 72 minutes kept Ulster within touching distance of their interpro rivals, and the chance to equalise came with two minutes to go, with Munster penalised well inside their own half. Pienaar's kick initially drew cheers from the Ravenhill faithful, but skirted wide of the left-hand post, and with it evaporated any chance of an Ulster comeback.
Ulster's night ended on an even lower note when, with Brian McLaughlin's men hurrying to get upfield for one last attack in injury time, a risky pass was intercepted by Munster centre Ivan Dineen, who had an easy run for the line. The game's sole try was converted by Warwick with the last kick of the match, inflicting Ulster's first home defeat of the season, and consolidating Munster's lead at the top of the Magners League.
Full-Time Score Ulster 6 Munster 16
(15 - 9) A D'Arcy; M McCrea, I Whitten, N Spence, D McIlwaine ; I Humphreys, R Pienaar
(1 - 8) P McAllister, N Brady, B Young; J Muller (c), T Barker; P Wannenburg, W Faloon, R Diack
Replacements (16 - 23) A Kyriacou, J Cronin, A Whitten, D Tuohy, C Henry, P Marshall, N O'Connor, L Marshall
(15 - 9) S Deasy; D Howlett (c), J Murphy, I Dineen, Denis Hurley; P Warwick, P Stringer
(1 - 8) W du Preez, D Varley, J Hayes; B Holland, I Nagle; A Quinlan, N Ronan, J Coughlan
Replacements (16 - 23) M Sherry, Darragh Hurley, S Archer, T O'Donnell, P O'Mahony, D Williams, B Murphy, S Zebo
|Ulster Rugby Score Card|
|Munster Rugby Score Card|