Connacht 10 Munster 16
MUNSTER survived a big scare in injury time to secure victory in the top of the table Pro14 Conference B clash at the Sportsground in Galway on Saturday evening.
Munster led 16-3 with time pretty much up, but a late Peter Sullivan try, coupled with two Munster yellow cards, meant that Connacht were camped on the Munster line with two extra men, facing down a six-point deficit, and with an attacking scrum. In that final play the game was there for the taking for Connacht, but Munster’s desperate defence forced a knock-on, which was greeted with wild celebrations by the 13 men of Munster.
The win nearly slipped from their grasp, yet it ensured that Munster now lead their Conference B rivals Connacht by eleven points with seven games remaining in the campaign.
Connacht out-half Jack Carty, who had been Man of the Match in the triumph over Leinster last weekend, missed a gilt-edged opportunity to open the scoring when he badly hooked a straight-forward penalty from in front of the posts in the fourth minute.
His opposite number JJ Hanrahan had no such issues seven minutes later when he knocked over a penalty after a devastating Munster maul had put the Connacht pack under severe pressure, with hooker Shane Delahunt being sent to the bin for collapsing it.
The Munster maul did the damage again in the 19th minute when a huge drive took Munster a full 20 metres, right up to the Connacht line, and after both CJ Stander and James Cronin were repelled, Conor Murray was able to rifle a pass for Chris Farrell to crash over for a deserved score.
The rest of the half was a stop-start affair, with the whistle of referee Frank Murphy being heard too often to allow play to develop, although Connacht will have been relieved to win a scrum penalty right on the stroke of half time, which Carty gratefully slotted, to bring his side within range at the break at 3-10.
Munster immediately restored their 10-point lead at the start of the second half when Hanrahan kicked a 40m penalty in the 43rd minute, and although Connacht did their best to take the game to Munster they kept running into the turnover machines that are Tadhg Beirne, Gavin Coombes and CJ Stander.
On the hour mark Munster unleashed some of their best rugby of the night, with some slick passing around the middle, which yielded a penalty right under the posts, as former Munster man Sam Arnold was guilty of not rolling away after completing a tackle, and Hanrahan dispatched the penalty in the 61st minute to give Munster a comfortable 3-16 lead.
However, replacement Rory Scannell received a late yellow card to give Connacht one final chance to get something out of the tie.
To their credit, they finally got over the Munster tryline with replacement wing Peter Sullivan going over in the right corner after being put away by full-back John Porch. Crucially for them Jack Carty slotted the touchline conversion to give them the losing bonus point.
There was time for one final attack after the restart as Connacht suddenly had notions of stealing an unlikely victory. The westerners energy levels suddenly went through the roof, and they were almost over, with replacement scrum-half Nick McCarthy joining Scannell in the bin for the last play of the game.
Thankfully for Munster, Connacht were not able to take their chance, and Munster were able to breath a huge sigh of relief at the final whistle.
Carty (1 pen, 1 con), Sullivan (1 try).
Hanrahan (3 pens, 1 con), Farrell (1 try).
Porch; O'Donnell, Arnold, Daly, Wootton; Carty, Blade; Buckley, Delahunt, Bealham, Dillane, Roux (c), O’Brien, Oliver, Masterson.
Heffernan for Masterson (16), Masterson for Heffernan (20), Boyle for O’Brien (42), Heffernan for Delahunt (48) Sullivan and Burke for O’Donnell and Buckley (50), Robertson-McCoy for Bealham (52), Thornbury and Marmion for Masterson and Blade (54).
Haley; Earls, Farrell, de Allende, Daly; Hanrahan, Murray; Cronin, O’Byrne, Archer; Kleyn, Beirne; Coombes, O’Mahony (c), Stander.
F. Wycherley for Kleyn (16), N. Scannell and Knox for O’Byrne and Archer (53), J. Wycherley for Cronin (62), Healy for Hanrahan (61), Holland for Coombes (65), R. Scannell for Daly (71), McCarthy for Murray (74).
Frank Murphy (IRFU).