Effective Ulster earn win vs. under-strength Munster

Although Munster decided to rest several of their Ireland internationals including Paul O'Connell, Ronan O'Gara, Donncha O'Callaghan, Tomas O'Leary, John Hayes and David Wallace, and given that the likes of Jerry Flannery, Marcus Horan and Denis Leamy are on the injured list, they are still firmly in contention to retain the title they won last season.

With the top four teams in the table qualifying for the end-of-season play-offs, Munster are currently in fourth place despite this defeat and with clever usage of their leading lights later in the campaign, they are almost certain to be in the shake-up once again.

As for Ulster, who predictably fielded a strong line-up at home, they fully deserved the victory after Simon Danielli's two first half tries put them in control. If they failed to kick on and win by a more convincing margin, it was down to conservative tactics that made for effective rather than daring rugby.

"To be brutally honest, I'm really, really pleased that we played ugly and won," said coach, Brian McLaughlin. "Last time we played exceptionally well against Leinster and got nothing out of it. We were 15-0 up and didn't kick on which was very disappointing, but the great thing was that we hung in there. Our defense was good and certainly we knuckled down in the last 10 minutes under ferocious pressure."

Munster responded before half time with a converted try by South African center, Jean de Villiers, and a Paul Warwick penalty, however, there was no change to the scoreboard after the interval as Ulster dug in.

The key to the success was their outright dominance in the scrums over the understrength Munster forwards. Prop Tom Court put in an excellent performance against Tony Buckley and is now surely in the frame for Ireland selection during the next month's Six Nations.

"Ulster are an excellent scrummaging side. They put us under immense pressure," admitted Munster coach, Tony McGahan. "It's always an on-going process with the set-piece, and we've been pretty solid for the last three or four weeks. We were up against a very good scrum. We'll have to go forward from there."

Meanwhile, the sell-out game between Connacht and Leinster was postponed last weekend due to a frozen playing surface at the Sportsground.

The fixture had initially been given the go-ahead following a midday inspection by the Galway stadium committee, however, referee, Peter Fitzgibbon, and the respective coaches, Michael Bradley and Michael Cheika, examined the playing surface two hours before the scheduled kick-off and a decision was taken to call the game off.

Although the surface had been covered for a couple of days, several areas of the pitch were affected by heavy frost. The match will now be refixed and all tickets purchased will be valid for the new date.

Connacht's problems aren't likely to end there, as Friday's game against the Dragons is also now in doubt as the pitch hasn't fully thawed. Coach Bradley had been targeting the match not just in an effort to improve a lowly league table position, but also to prepare for a crucial European Challenge Cup fixture against French club, Montpellier.

"It wouldn't be ideal if the game had to be postponed. The match against Leinster was a big one for us," reflected Bradley, "and there was a feeling of deflation afterwards. We can only deal with what we can deal with, and the weather forecast isn't great."

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