Ulster maintained their 100 per cent start in the Guinness PRO14 as they began the new year by beating provincial rivals Munster 15-10, although they were made to fight all the way at the Kingspan Stadium.

The Conference A leaders inflicted the first defeat of the season on Munster, the Conference B pacesetters who came to Belfast without their front-line players but still managed to claim a losing bonus point despite trailing 15-3 at half-time.

First-half tries from wingers Matt Faddes and Ethan McIlroy, plus a conversion and a penalty from John Cooney, seemed to have put Ulster in full control.

However, Munster battled back in the second half, despite having skipper Billy Holland yellow-carded, while Ulster failed to register a single point.

Munster's only score in the first half was from a Ben Healy penalty and they next scored in the 82nd minute when Ulster, a man down after Callum Reid’s yellow card, could not stop Darren Sweetnam from diving over.

Ulster scored a superb try after six minutes when centre James Hume’s pass put Jacob Stockdale in space and he released Faddes to score at the corner, although Cooney was unable to provide the two extra points.

However, the hosts strayed offside five minutes later and Casey slotted the three points in reply from near the posts.

Ulster then crossed for their second try when Cooney ran a free-kick which ended up with winger McIlroy getting on the end of Billy Burns’ kick-pass several phases later.

This time Cooney converted with another touchline shot, and he then extended their lead to 15-3 just before the half hour was up after Chris Cloete strayed offside in a strong Ulster attack.

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Full match details

After a fairly uneventful opening period to the second half, Holland was shown a 59th-minute yellow card as Ulster tightened their grip on possession and territory.

Yet despite being camped in Munster's 22 for nearly 10 minutes, the home side failed to score – Kieran Treadwell coming the closest – and even with 14 men the visitors lifted the siege through some great work by Cloete.

However, Healy was wide with a long-range penalty shot after 64 minutes and Munster managed to hold out while Holland was off without conceding any points.

The game ended with Ulster again under pressure and the visitors came close to scoring their first try after replacement Roman Salanoa drove through only for Thomas Ahern to be held up.

Then, with Ulster prop Reid in the bin at the end of the game, Munster finally got over in the 82nd minute through Sweetnam, a try which was converted by Jack Crowley.

Dan McFarland's team has now won 10 from 10 and sit on top of Conference A - albeit with Leinster still holding three games in hand.

Munster maintain a nine-point lead over Scarlets at the summit of Conference B.