12 Dec, 14:42
Prop Cian Healy is expected to miss the start of the 2014 RBS 6 Nations after undergoing surgery on his injured ankle on Wednesday.
ROUND 1 -
Munster 9 Leinster 10, Nenagh Ormond RFC
Connacht 18 Ulster 17, Ballyhaunis RFC
Last winners over Ulster back in 1989, the Connacht junior side got their Interpro campaign off to a tremendous start with a nail-biting win at Ballyhaunis' splendid new grounds.
The match, watched by a large crowd, was played in brilliant sunshine but a strong cross-field wind made it awkward for the kickers and lineout throwers.
Connacht enjoyed some early pressure which unsettled Ulster and this resulted in an early breakthrough in the 10th minute when Dunmore flanker Ger Kelly went over for the game's first try, following excellent work by the Connacht forwards.
In the tricky conditions, out-half Ger O'Connor missed the conversion but he made no mistake five minutes later when he converted Connacht's second try.
It scored by Westport's flying winger Kevin Corcoran following a great interception and a sprint from his own 22 metre-line to score under the posts.
This left the score at 12-0 to Connacht and they fully deserved the lead as they fronted up to the heavier Ulster pack, especially at ruck time with Martin Lee, Eoin Rooney and Enda Murphy all prominent.
However, persistent Ulster pressure in the later stages of the first half resulted in the visitors' main attacking threat, out-half John Semple, crossing for a well-taken try. His successful conversion left it at 12-7 for half-time.
The second half started much as the first had done with Connacht putting pressure on Ulster at all times and they were dually rewarded when Ger O'Connor slotted a penalty on 47 minutes.
Connacht were unlucky not to score further during this period with Dave Prior, Ger Divilly and captain Kevin Higgins all creating good opportunities.
The penalty setback seemed to galvanise Ulster who enjoyed their best period of the game for the next 20 minutes.
Their earlier indecision in the back-line was replaced with some excellent spells of possession and they reduced the deficit to 15-10 with a Semple penalty on 55 minutes.
Some solid rucking and mauling by the visitors' pack had the Connacht line under severe pressure and eventually Ulster prop Phil Moore drove over for a try which, when converted by Semple, had Ulster in front for the first time.
This was now a serious test of Connacht's resolve and team spirit and they came through.
Willie Parker, Rooney, Alan Bane and replacement Mike Ward took on Ulster up front while scrum half Mike Murphy and centres Paul Cody and Prior started to probe the tiring Ulster defence.
Connacht made a break from their own 22 through Corcoran in the 70th minute which resulted in a penalty against Ulster for killing the ball in a ruck on their own 22.
O'Connor held his nerve and pinged the ball through the posts to leave Connacht leading by the minimum margin, with 10 minutes left plus injury-time.
And what a last ten minutes they were as Ulster tried everything and Connacht denied them with some tremendous defending.
With one minute of normal time remaining, Ulster thought they had scored the winning try through flanker James Morton, who charged through off a block down, but Munster referee Jude Quinn disallowed it for offside much to Connacht's relief.
Ulster had a final opportunity from a penalty from the ten-metre line but the effort fell short and the final whistle brought joyful scenes as the Connacht players, management and supporters celebrated a very encouraging win.
Meanwhile, the Leinster juniors got their title defence off to a successful start with a gritty 10-9 victory over Munster at Nenagh Ormond RFC.
The game was switched to Nenagh on Saturday after Cashel RFC's pitch was deemed unplayable and much credit must go to the ground staff in Nenagh for making the pitch playable after heavy rainfall.
Like most Leinster v Munster games, this was a tight, hard-fought affair with both packs going toe to toe for the 80 minutes.
Leinster were out the blocks first and seemed to gel quicker with some line-breaks and ground-gaining moves but yielded nothing on the score board as a number of kickable penalties were missed.
The home side grew steadily into the game but some great defence including a number of try-saving tackles kept them at bay until out-half Eamon Ronan kicked two penalties to give them a 6-0 half-time advantage.
Nonetheless, Munster turned around at the break down to 14 men after a late sin-binning and they were fortunate that Leinster missed some more kickable penalties and other scoring chances in open play.
Leinster made some more precision in their play and they got it when off a turnover ball, a good break from second row Ronan Bolger and great inside pass saw winger Stephen McGee go over for the opening try.
The conversion and a couple more penalty attempts were missed, leaving Leinster wondering if it was not to be their day. A drop goal from Ronan, with ten minutes remaining, had Munster within sight of the finish line at 9-5.
But Munster then lost another player to the sin-bin and an already expansive Leinster turned up the pace and moved the ball at every opportunity as they sought the try to win the match.
They threw the kitchen sink at Munster but just as it appeared they would come up short, in the very last play of the game, a sweeping move started by a quick tap penalty and carried on by the forwards led to the clinching score.
A great cut out pass by Aaron Deverell and good continuity work by David Quirke, Bolger and captain Bernard Smyth gave the defending champions some real momentum.
Smyth was held up short but managed to offload for the supporting Deverell to touch down despite the best efforts of the home side. The conversion was missed but Leinster, on the balance of play, had done enough to merit the win.
IRFU JUNIOR INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIP - ROUND 2 FIXTURES:
Saturday, May 2 -
Ulster v Munster, Lisburn RFC, 2.30pm
Leinster v Connacht, Navan RFC, 12pm