Ulster became the first Irish team to beat Munster at Thomond Park since Leinster did so in December 1995, as they humbled the Heineken Cup champions with a devastating five-try salvo.
Paddy Wallace, Darren Cave, Mark McCrea, Tom Court and Andrew Trimble all touched down for Ulster as Munster’s bid to move back to the top of the Magners League crumbled.
Man-of-the-match Ian Humphreys also enhanced his chances of featuring in Ireland’s Six Nations squad as he orchestrated many of Ulster’s key scores and kicked 12 points.
Nothing went right for Munster on the night – knock ons, forward passes and poor decision-making blighted their play and Ronan O’Gara and Rua Tipoki both limped off with injuries.’
The result marked Ulster’s first win at the famous Limerick ground since November 1992 and it was a thoroughly deserved triumph as they put together their best display under current coach Matt Williams.
Munster, who suffered a 12-6 defeat at Connacht last week, will now be under increased pressure to get something out of next Friday’s top of the table clash with the Ospreys at Liberty Stadium.
Ulster looked cohesive right from the kick-off, working through the phases and threatening out wide through Timoci Nagusa and the deceptively quick Cave.
The returning Tipoki, playing for the first time since sustaining ligament damage against New Zealand, showed some neat touches as Munster marched back downfield.
But when an O’Gara grubber kick was blocked down on the Ulster 22, the visitors quickly turned possession into a breakaway try.
Stephen Ferris did well to gather the loose ball and find Nigel Brady and although the hooker’s pass on the 10-metre line to Paddy Wallace looked decidedly forward, referee Alan Lewis allowed play to continue and Wallace had the legs on the Munster cover to go in under the posts.
Humphreys tapped over the conversion and Munster were struggling to get out of first gear, with O’Gara pushing a penalty attempt wide before a hamstring injury forced him off.
Humphreys moved Ulster 10-0 ahead but O’Gara’s replacement Paul Warwick converted a 20th minute penalty to get Munster on the scoreboard.
Munster gained territory through Warwick’s line kicking, however the Ulster forwards were solid in the lineout and showed more commitment at the breakdown.
And then, nine minutes from the break, Humphreys’ well-weighted kick out to the left bounced perfectly for the onrushing Cave to slip through for a sucker-punch try.
Humphreys increased his influence by nailing the conversion from the touchline, before Warwick cancelled it out with a penalty.
But Ulster pressed for more points and their adventure was rewarded in first half injury-time when Humphreys brilliantly collected his own garryowen and offloaded for replacement McCrea to stretch his legs and crash over in the right corner.
22-6 down at half-time and with Tipoki limping off, Munster rallied and looked more composed on the restart but Ulster had their bonus point score after only six minutes when prop Court burrowed over for a converted try.
Federico Pucciariello and Matt McCullough were sent to the sin-bin for an off-the-ball clash and Ulster were suddenly down to 13 players when stand-in captain Kieron Dawson was yellow carded for a deliberate offside.
Before that, Humphreys had managed to tag on another penalty and while Munster gained some consolation with a Warwick-inspired try for Doug Howlett, Ulster were not going to let them in for another.
Their defending was typified by the efforts of Ferris and Paul Steinmetz who combined to deny Kieran Lewis a certain try.
With mistakes littering their game, hapless Munster coughed up another try five minutes from time when Trimble dotted down after following up on a dinked kick from Humphreys.