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.
The game was an enthralling affair from beginning to end, with both sides showcasing the aggression of their forwards and the invention of their backs.
Ulster were good value for their win, however, with excellent kicking from Paddy Jackson and an all-round virtuoso display from try scorer and man-of-the-match Jared Payne making the difference.
Ian Keatley put Munster ahead inside three minutes with a neatly-dispatched penalty after Ulster had failed to release the ball in the tackle under pressure deep in their own half, and with a similar infringement five minutes later, he struck again to double the lead.
With Munster maintaining good pressure from the restart, solid Ulster defence kept several raids at bay and Keatley settled for the drop goal, which he executed with aplomb in the 13th minute to make it 9-0 already in what seemed like a heartbeat.
Jackson clawed three points back with the boot on the quarter hour mark, and good opportunism from the alert Nick Williams as the ball rolled loose from the scrum moments later put Ulster back in the driving seat.
A scintillating burst down the right flank from Payne sliced out the Munster defence, and only a tap tackle on the flying full-back and then a last-gasp lunge at the next recipient, Andrew Trimble, mere metres from the line prevented the most spectacular of tries.
A quickly-taken lineout in the 25th minute saw Payne surge down the right flank once more, but when eventually grounded there were no white shirts in immediate attendance to pick up the ball he made available.
Munster knocked on and with the visitors collapsing the scrum before Paul Marshall had the chance to put in, Jackson gratefully stepped up for his second kick from the 22. His effort rebounded off the left-hand upright, but Ulster rapidly regained possession and kept knocking on the door.
After a trio of attacks were blighted by knock ons in high-impact tackles, Munster infringed in the middle of the pitch and Jackson duly closed the gap to three points.
The visitors wasted no time in reopening it though, with replacement winger Keith Earls finishing off a fluid 'team' try which the Ulster defence simply could not keep up with. Keatley added the extras to make it 16-6.
With two minutes to play before the break, it was imperative that Ulster retrieve something to build on in the second half. A further penalty on the stroke of half-time allowed Jackson move the home side within a converted try of the Munstermen.
Good ball-carrying from Williams against his former team got Ulster off to a promising start in the second period, and Jackson was again on hand in the 44th minute to clip over his fourth penalty of the evening, this time from just inside the 10-metre line.
The Munster reaction was again commendable, with lightning fast exchanges bringing them straight back into the danger zone before their wide men eventually strayed just out of play near the right corner.
Then, when John Afoa pilfered the ball at a malfunctioning Munster lineout, Ulster displayed the perfect blend of commitment and composure to recycle and spread the ball through several phases.
Jackson picked out Payne on the wing, and the Kiwi - playing easily his best game in an Ulster jersey to date - powered through a tandem of tackles to touch down in the corner. The conversion missed by inches, but the hosts led for the first time at 17-16.
Boosted by that score, Ulster came again straight from the off with the just-introduced Craig Gilroy somehow withstanding a bone-crunching challenge to stay on his feet and shimmy towards the line.
The attack finally broke down, but it was a clear statement of intent from the Ulstermen whose performance was proving increasingly polished as the game progressed, and whose chances of victory were aided further by the sin-binning of Munster flanker Sean Dougall just before the hour mark.
However, you write Munster off at your peril, as Keatley proved in the 67th minute with another opportunistic drop goal to redress the balance back in his side's favour.
The lead endured for only a matter of seconds though, as indiscipline at a scrum allowed former Ireland Under-20 captain Jackson kick three further points for a 20-19 scoreline.
It was evident that the next flash of brilliance would prove decisive and it came from Ulster - not in the form of a blistering breakaway with ball in hand, but rather through their sublime defensive organisation in the final five minutes.
Munster, determined to hit back in head coach Rob Penney's first derby clash, threw everything they had at Ulster who resisted with steel and determination until the final whistle.
|Ulster Rugby Score Card|
|Munster Rugby Score Card|