GLASGOW may need a bonus-point victory against Ulster on Saturday to achieve their goal of a home semi-final after they suffered a 21-10 setback at Ospreys on Friday and the Belfast side drew 23-23 with Munster on Saturday.
That means the top three are currently tied on 70 points, with Ospreys edging Glasgow into second on points difference. Fourth-placed Ulster are a point further back on 69, with third-placed Munster facing Dragons at home in their last regular season fixture.
If Glasgow, Ospreys – who line up against Connacht – and Munster all secure bonus-point wins on Saturday, Glasgow will finish second having recorded one more win than Munster over the season.
But Ulster’s South-African back-row forward Robbie Diack believes they have the players to win a Pro12 play-off, whether that game is at home or away. He told the club’s official website: “A couple of years ago, we might have been nervous about playing a play-off away from home.
“With the squad that we have and the leadership that exists within the group, we have quality people at the top. I think this is the squad that can go and win a play-off no matter where it is. We all want to win the play-off because we all know where the final is going to be played [in Belfast].
Glasgow would probably have been hoping for an Ulster win against Munster, as this would have ruled out the necessity of a bonus point when the Irishmen come to Scotstoun.
But, with only seconds of the game remaining, Munster were leading 23-18 before a try from Paul Marshall and a superb touchline conversion from Paddy Jackson levelled the match, in which Ulster’s Iain Henderson was sent-off with seven minutes remaining. After several viewings, the match officials adjudged Henderson to have led with the head at the ruck when clearing Ronan O’Mahony out and referee Nigel Owens reached for the red card.
Munster coach Anthony Foley admitted he didn’t get a good vantage point of the incident but felt the officials must have come to the correct decision.
“You have to be bound to enter a ruck with your shoulders,” he said. “We couldn’t see clearly where the contact was, but obviously it was clear enough for the TMO and touch judge.”
Ulster coach Neil Doak indicated afterwards that they will appeal the decision. Foley reflected that a draw was not a bad result given the venue and said all attentions will be now focused on the final match against the Dragons.
“I think I have come here on a number of years and got home with nothing so two points will stand to us going into the knock-out stages.
“The Dragons have beaten Leinster home and away this year. We’ll prepare as we prepared this week and we will be focused on getting the result.”
Tries at the end of either half – the first a cracker from Tommy Bowe before Marshall’s late intervention – got Ulster back into a game which looked to be slipping away from them, while Munster managed six penalties from Ian Keatley and a try from Keith Earls.
Ulster turned a 9-0 deficit round into a 10-9 lead right at the end of the first half through Bowe’s dramatic try and then battled back from 23-16 red card to snatch the draw.
Keatley opened Munster’s account after five minutes with a penalty after making a strong opening, though they lost flanker Tommy O’Donnell to injury.
Keatley then made it 6-0 on the half hour after Ulster’s scrum was penalised and that quickly became 9-0 after Henderson strayed offside at a ruck.
But with just two minutes left in the half, Ulster responded in dramatic fashion. Jackson kicked a 38th-minute penalty after Munster’s scrum was penalised and then, out of nothing, Bowe scored a scintillating try in the final minute of the half.
After Rory Best had secured a high ball, Ulster moved it wide and a deft pass from Henderson worked Bowe into space.
The Ireland and Lions winger dodged and swerved his way past several defenders to dive over the line and Jackson’s conversion gave Ulster a 10-9 lead.
That quickly became 13-9 three minutes after the restart when Jackson kicked his second penalty but the visitors hit back 13 minutes in with Keatley’s fourth penalty from right under the sticks cutting Ulster’s lead to a point.
Two more Keatley penalties put Munster 18-13 clear before they surrendered the win right at the death.