We went minute-by-minute for the only thing tastier than Easter Sunday chocolate — Munster v Ulster in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals.
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Munster 16-22 Ulster
13.26 – Can you feel it? The tension is rising, if that’s even possible. There’s just over 15 minutes to go until kick-off in the one we’ve all been waiting for — it’s Munster v Ulster in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals at Thomond Park. Tasty…
I’ll get the team news and we’ll get rolling.
13.35 – First up, the mighty Munster men. Paul O’Connell is fit to take his place in the second row, and after the scrum trouble against Leinster last weekend, Wian du Preez and BJ Botha come in to firm up the front row.
Munster: F Jones; D Hurley, K Earls, L Mafi, S Zebo; R O’Gara, C Murray; W du Preez, M Sherry, BJ Botha; D Ryan, P O’Connell; P O’Mahony, T O’Donnell, J Coughlan. Replacements: D Varley, M Horan, S Archer, D O’Callaghan, D Wallace, T O’Leary, I Keatley, J Murphy.
13.37 – And now Ulster. If Paulie’s inclusion is a big boost for Munster, how huge is it that Stephen Ferris is fit to start in the visitors’ back row? Nobody knows how long the ankle will hold up for, but if Ulster can get 60 minutes of big ball-carries out of Ferris, it could be decisive.
Ulster: S Terblanche; A Trimble, D Cave, P Wallace, C Gilroy; I Humphreys, R Pienaar; T Court, R Best, J Afoa, J Muller (c), D Tuohy, S Ferris, C Henry, P Wannenburg. Replacements: N Brady, P McAllister, A Macklin, L Stevenson, W Faloon, P Marshall, N Spence, A D’Arcy.
13.41 – Thomond Park is absolutely rocking as the teams make their final preparations in the dressing room. Five minutes to kick-off here — who will prevail to set up a semi-final date against Edinburgh in the Aviva Stadium?
13.43 – Once upon a time, a home semi-final for Munster meant guaranteed progress to the final four. Today Ulster arrive in Limerick with winning in mind.
Earlier this week, Sean Farrell spoke to Jerry Flannery to find out where it all went wrong for Munster.
Time can be a dangerous thing for a man.
It wreaks havoc with the mind, conjuring up regret no matter how much you bat it away.
This week, Jerry Flannery — desperately trying to fill a void in each day — lifted the lid on some regrets held within the Munster camp.
Even before they finally lifted their first European trophy, Ireland’s southern province were the most feared. Their skill levels could not match the flamboyant French sides like Toulouse (not until 2008 anyway) but their heart, soul and every sinew was poured into every knockout fixture.
13.47 – Thomond Park buzzes with anticipation as Paul O’Connell leads out Munster. The bookmakers make Munster six-point favourites, but Ulster have been quietly confident all week that they can take a scalp. Can they?
13.47 – We’re underway. Romain Poite sounds his whistle, and Ruan Pienaar kicks off.
13.50 – A nervy start for Ulster and for Ian Humphreys, who tries to kick in behind the Munster defence but misjudges and watches the ball roll into the dead-ball area.
13.52 – The Ulster front row do a number of Munster at the scrum and Ruan Pienaar will have a chance to open the scoring with a long, long penalty. He’s inside his own half…
13.53 – PENALTY! Munster 0-3 Ulster (Pienaar, 5′) Cracking strike by Pienaar with the wind at his back, and he splits the posts. An early warning for Munster, who can’t afford to give him too many chances like that this afternoon.
13.57 – Ian Humphreys has struggled to settle in these opening eight or nine minutes. He skews one clearing kick high into the air off the outside of his boot, and another straight into Denis Hurley’s hands.
13.58 – PENALTY! Munster 0-6 Ulster (Pienaar, 10′) Roman Poite is not endearing himself to the home support as he penalises Munster for another silly mistake. An offside gives Pienaar a chance to stretch Ulster’s lead from almost exactly the same spot, and he booms another monster over the bar.
14.04 – Great intensity from both sides at the breakdown; Munster pound away, but Ulster refuse to give an inch in midfield. The attack breaks down when Ferris stretches a long leg over the top of the ruck and forces a knock-on from Murray.
14.04 – TRY! Munster 0-13 Ulster (Gilroy, 16′) That is one of the great individual tries of this year’s competition, but Munster will need to take a long look at their defending. Quick ball from the ruck in midfield sets Craig Gilroy free on the left wing. He burns a sluggish Denis Hurley for pace, skips around a flailing Felix Jones, powers past Earls and Zebo and, with Mafi holding on to his ankles, barges his way over the line. Stunning. Pienaar converts.
14.09 – PENALTY! Munster 0-16 Ulster (Pienaar, 19′) Another absolute monster from Ruan Pienaar and, all of a sudden, Munster look to be in a lot of trouble.
14.12 – Here comes the Munster response. They drive to within yards of the Ulster line and, although they can’t get over, they have a penalty for hands in the ruck. O’Gara kicks to the corner.
14.16 – Ulster are putting Murray under a huge amount of pressure at the breakdown and again, they force a mistake from Murray. He fumbles the ball onto Donnacha Ryan’s back and it’s scrum Ulster for the accidental offside.
A huge Munster shove destroys Ulster at the scrum and there’s a little bit of handbags for referee Romain Poite to sort out.
14.17 – O’Gara tries a crossfield kick to unlock the Ulster defence, but it’s too ambitious and Denis Hurley can get nowhere near it. For all of their pressure, Munster won’t take any points from this trip into the Ulster 22.
14.21 – O’Gara tries another kick in behind from deep, but Stefan Terblanche steps up into the space and scuffs it clear.
14.24 – DROP GOAL! Munster 0-19 Ulster (Humphreys, 32′) Remarkable stuff from Ulster, who seem to be putting points on the board every time they get the slightest sniff of territory. This one comes from the blue, as Ian Humphreys sits back close to the 10-metre line and pings a sweet drop goal off his left boot.
14.25 – TRY! Munster (Zebo, 34′) A big moment for Munster as they break with men on the overlap. Keith Earls offloads to Lifeimi Mafi who straightens the line before popping to Simon Zebo. He powers towards the corner as Andrew Trimble tries to get across to cut him off, but there’s only one winner. The TMO confirms the grounding and that Zebo’s feet were in play, and Munster have their try.
O’Gara converts from a very difficult angle.
14.30 – YELLOW CARD! (Henry, 36′) Another big boost for Munster; Chris Henry goes to the bin for holding on on the ground. Can Munster add another score before the break?
14.33 – PENALTY! Munster 10-19 Ulster (O’Gara, 40+1′) O’Gara nails a Pienaar-esque(!) long penalty with the final kick of the half, and this game has now taken on a different complexion entirely. What a half of rugby.
14.34 – HALF TIME: Munster 10-19 Ulster
14.39 – Romain Poite’s refereeing isn’t to everybody’s liking, unsurprisingly.
14.50 – We’re back underway. Munster don’t lose home quarter-finals, so can they pull this one out of the bag? It’s going to be a big 40 minutes.
14.55 – Chris Henry is on the line waiting for his sin-binning to expire, but before it does, O’Gara will have a chance to cut the deficit to six with a long penalty…
14.57 – MISSED PENALTY! O’Gara’s penalty gets caught up in the wind and falls short. Ulster clear their lines.
14.59 – PENALTY! Munster 13-19 (O’Gara, 49′) Ulster are pinged by referee Romain Poite again and O’Gara has a much easier chance from in front of the posts. No mistake from ROG, as Chris Henry finally rejoins the action.
15.02 – Some absolutely crunching tackles going in early in this second half, and I’m not sure all of them have been legal. John Afoa escapes sanction for what some referees might have judged to be a tip tackle on Felix Jones.
Then, as James Coughlan breaks, he’s stalled by a powerful and legal flying tackle from Stephen Ferris.
Make no mistake though, it’s Munster who are in the ascendancy now. Ulster haven’t really settled yet.
15.04 – And as I type that, Andrew Trimble underscores the point. He calls a mark on a long kick from O’Gara, but rushes his restart and slices it poorly into touch, handing the initiative and territory back to Munster.
15.09 – A mistake by Keith Earls lets Ian Humphreys hack the ball deep into Munster territory, but with the help of James Coughlan, Simon Zebo scrambles back and runs the ball clear.
Munster are having a lot more joy at the gain line here, but with nearly 20 minutes gone in this second half, they’ve only managed put three points on the board since the restart.
15.11 – PENALTY! Munster 13-22 Ulster (Pienaar, 59′) A big scrum for Ulster and they win the penalty; Tommy O’Donnell is pulled up for coming out of the back row too early. Ruan Pienaar steps up and coolly slots the three.
15.13 – A couple of changes for Munster. Johne Murphy is on for Denis Hurley, and in the forwards, a fired-up Donncha O’Callaghan comes on for Tommy O’Donnell. Looks like O’Callaghan will go into the second row alongside O’Connell, with Ryan slotting into the back row.
15.14 – PENALTY! Munster 16-22 Ulster (O’Gara, 60′) Ulster’s reprieve is short-lived as O’Gara knocks over three from in front of the posts.
Twenty minutes to play; impossible to call.
15.17 – A familiar feeling around Thomond at the moment, I’d imagine.
15.19 – Munster try to get that trademark maul going inside Ulster territory, but they turn the ball over when it collapses. Pienaar kicks the penalty to touch but O’Connell nicks lineout ball from underneath Johann Muller’s nose. Here come Munster again…
15.20 – Twelve minutes to play, Munster trail by six. Damien Varley comes on for Mike Sherry.
15.21 – Not for the first time this afternoon, Romain Poite pulls Wian du Preez and John Afoa out of the scrum for a talking to. It could be a key battleground in these last few minutes.
15.24 – Munster take it to within 10 yards of the Ulster line and try to hammer it down the short side. Mafi is screaming for it on the openside but Murray ignores him and eventually Munster are penalised for holding on the ground. Donnacha Ryan the guilty party, I think.
Incredibly, Pienaar misses touch. No relief.
15.26 – A huge moment for Ulster. As Mafi thunders through, Afoa tackles him and somehow dislodges the ball with his foot. Ferris hacks clear and within seconds, Ulster have chased it down and forced a scrum in the Munster half. Pressure finally off, and that could be a game-changer.
I’d like to see that Afoa incident again. Paul O’Connell seemed to gesture that he had come in from the side, and on a first glance, I’d be tempted to agree.
15.28 – Keith Earls is limping around the pitch, but he refuses to go off. Seven minutes to play and Munster need two three-pointers for a draw, a converted try to win. Ulster can probably seal with one more score.
15.30 – Oh my, Ian Humphreys has come within a hair’s breadth of winning this for Ulster. Under pressure, he scoots a drop-goal effort which shaves the outside of the post. Thomond breathes again.
David Wallace and Tomas O’Leary both on for Munster; Murray and O’Mahony off.
15.31 – And another chance for Ulster to wrap it up. And another let off for Ulster. Ruan Pienaar has been flawless from the tee so far today, but now with his name in lights, he snatches at a penalty and it’s wide.
Three minutes to play.
15.33 – They know in Thomond, they can feel it slip away. Ulster have the put-in to the scrum as the clock ticks past 78 and into the final two minutes.
15.34 – One last chance for Munster. Under pressure, Pienaar knocks on at the base of the scrum. They will have the put in on the half-way line with less than 60 seconds remaining…
15.35 – We’re into red. Munster work it into the Ulster half. No room for a single error.
15.36 – Knocked on! Ulster win!
15.37 – FULL TIME: Munster 16-22 Ulster
15.40 – A stunned silence falls over Thomond, apart from the travelling support who show their appreciation for their Ulster heroes. Unbelievable tension right down to the final phase of the final play, but Ulster have done it. They will play Edinburgh in the Aviva Stadium semi-final.
15.42 – Not to single of the Ulster players out for particular praise, but for a man who apparently only had half an ankle this week, Stephen Ferris was an absolute beast. Deservedly named Heineken Man of the Match.
15.44 – Brian McLaughlin is taking it all in. He walks the rope line at the away end, shaking hands with each and every Ulster supporter standing there. Can McLaughlin sign off with a Heineken Cup win in his final season as head coach? Ulster are only two games away now.
15.48 – The first of the post-match comments are in. Here’s how Padraic read it:
Better side won. Well done Ulster! Better plan, more positive game plan and better pack.
McGahan ultimately failed to replace aging side and Munster now need a long hard look at themselves.
15.56 – That’s our lot from now. We’ll have more reaction and analysis throughout the evening, but we’ll leave it there for now.
Of course, there’s still another quarter-final this afternoon with Saracens and Clermont set to do battle at 4.30 for the right to play Leinster in semis. We’ll be back in the liveblog command centre presently, so see you then.