CELTIC LEAGUE: Week 18: Friday, March 18Munster 21 Ulster 15, Musgrave ParkScorers: Munster: Tries: John Kelly, David Wallace; Con: Paul Burke; Pens: Burke 3Ulster: Tries: Tommy Bowe, Roger Wilson; Con: Paddy Wallace; Drop gl: Wallace
Coach Alan Gaffney - whose side are 13 points behind the Welsh region - admitted afterwards: "tonight was all about getting the points - and while it's a pity we couldn't get the bonus point, a win is a win."
His charges will need three more wins from three in the final run-in - starting with Good Friday's tricky trip to the Dragons - 30-0 losers to the Ospreys this weekend - at Rodney Parade.
For Ulster, a bonus point kept them on the coattails of third-placed province Connacht - moving them temporarily level with the westerners, with bottom side the Borders next on the agenda at Ravenhill.
The late cry-off of Ireland 'A' full-back Bryn Cunningham and the diversion of their flight to Kerry's Farranfore airport due to a fog-encased Cork, failed to rattle Mark McCall's side at Musgrave.
Paul Burke - who timed his kicking well throughout - clipped over a 25-metre on 5 minutes for a home lead, but a neat Ulster move paved the way for winger Tommy Bowe to reply almost instantly.
The 21-year-old showed a great turn of pace to gather his own chip kick and beat the Munster rearguard for a try in the left corner. Paddy Wallace dinked the conversion off the post and in a half in which the lead changed five times, Munster wasted little time in replying.
With Ireland lock Gary Longwell sin-binned for a ruck offence, Burke set John Kelly haring over in the right corner to restore Munster's advantage - at 8-5.
Wallace then dropped a goal to tie it up before Scott Young put Roger Wilson over fir his first score of the campaign on 35 minutes, with his fly-half adding the tricky extras.
15-8 down, Burke's second penalty looked like being Munster's sole reward for a late flurry until they struck for what Gaffney dubbed "the best try we've scored in my three years in charge" in injury time.
Captain Jim Williams and Alan Quinlan featured prominently as a great 44th-minute move - which swung from right to left and then right again - ended with a converted score for David Wallace and an unlikely 18-15 buffer for Munster.
Munster had the better of a dour second half - despite the best efforts of the sniping Bowe and Kieran Campbell - and Burke kicked the only points of it on 74 minutes, landing a 30-metre penalty to bolster the home charge.
The former Harlequin had another chance at the death, as did his half-back partner - man-of-the-match Frank Murphy, who worked tirelessly throughout - but it fell wide and Ulster deservedly held on for a much-needed bonus point.
(15) Shaun Payne(14) John Kelly(13) Mike Mullins(12) Rob Henderson(11) Anthony Horgan(10) Paul Burke(9) Frank Murphy(1) Frank Roche(2) Jerry Flannery
Replacements used: Jason Holland for Henderson (62 mins), Eugene McGovern for McIlwham (76), Stephen Keogh for Williams (80). Not used: James Blaney, Tom Hayes, Mike Prendergast, Paul Devlin.
(15) Tommy Bowe(14) Scott Young(13) Seamus Mallon(12) Paul Steinmetz(11) Tyrone Howe(10) Paddy Wallace(9) Kieran Campbell(1) Ronan McCormack(2) Paul Shields(3) Rod Moore(4) Gary Longwell(5) Matt McCullough(6) Andy Ward (Capt)(7) Neil Best(8) Roger Wilson
Replacements used: Bryan Young for Moore (52 mins), Campbell Feather for Ward (59), Nigel Brady for Shields (71), Tim Barker for Longwell (74). Not used: Neil Doak, Adam Larkin, Shane Stewart.
Sin-bin: Gary Longwell (Ulster) (16 mins)HT: Munster 18 Ulster 15; Attendance: 8,500Referee: Andy Ireland (Scotland)