Mighty Munster move into Pro14 Grand Final with two games to spare

Reds recovered to secure the vital victory at Thomond Park against Connacht
Mighty Munster move into Pro14 Grand Final with two games to spare

Munster's Rory Scannell and Jack Carty of Connacht in action. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

Munster 20 Connacht 17 

MUNSTER saw off main Pro14 Conference B rivals Connacht in a highly entertaining encounter at Thomond Park on Friday evening to guarantee their place in this year’s Pro14 Grand Final.

Connacht showed they meant business, with a fourth-minute try scored by Matt Healy, from a move straight off first phase from a five-metre scrum. The Munster defence was caught far too narrow and Connacht had the easy task of moving the ball through to the hands to their waiting winger to score in the left corner.

Munster eventually managed a lengthy spell deep in the visitors half, and after a couple of near misses they finally got over for a try from close range from James Cronin, in the 22nd minute, after Chris Farrell and Craig Casey had made the hard yards.

An Ultan Dillane lineout steal, five minutes later, gifted Jack Carty a simple penalty opportunity, which he took, to regain the lead for Connacht to leave them leading 7-10 at half time.

Referee Chris Busby signals a Munster try attempt which is held up. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Referee Chris Busby signals a Munster try attempt which is held up. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Munster levelled matters with a 42nd-minute penalty from Healy, after Mike Haley had instigated the territory with a superb run and offload to Shane Daly, and when two minutes later Bundee Aki was sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on offence Munster had a brilliant opportunity to wrestle control of the game but were unable to do so.

Healy hooked another penalty wide in the 55th minute, in what was his last contribution of the game, as Joey Carbery came on, as Munster coach Johann van Graan emptied his bench early.

Ben Healy, Munster, is tackled by Gavin Thornbury and Jack Carty of Connacht. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Ben Healy, Munster, is tackled by Gavin Thornbury and Jack Carty of Connacht. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Almost immediately Munster struck for a super individual effort from full-back Haley, who gathered a high kick, fended off Irish hooker Dave Heffernan, before chipping over the top and winning a foot race against Paul Boyle to score.

The impressive Boyle wasn’t long in responding, however, as he burst through to score in the 64th minute, after Chris Cloete had been sin-binned, to level affairs.

In the 68th minute Aki gave away a costly looking penalty under his own posts, and Carbery was able to win the tie from the resultant kick.

Scorers for Munster: Healy (1 con, 1 pen), Carbery (1 con, 1 pen), Cronin, Haley (1 try each).

Connacht: Carty (2 cons, 1 pen), Healy, Boyle (1 try each) 

MUNSTER: Haley; Conway, Farrell, R. Scannell, Daly; Healy, Casey; Cronin, N. Scannell, Archer; Wycherley, Holland (c); O'Donoghue, Cloete, Coombes.

Subs: O’Byrne, Kleyn, Carbery and de Allende for N. Scannell, Wycherley, Healy and R. Scannell (56), Ryan for Archer (59), Loughman for Cronin (68), O’Sullivan for O’Donoghue (72).

CONNACHT: O'Halloran, Porch, Daly, Aki, Healy, Carty, Blade, Buckley, Heffernan, Bealham, Dillane, Thornbury, Butler, Oliver, Boyle.

Subs: Aungier and Wooton for Bealham and O’Halloran (59), Delahunt, Masterson and Marmion for Heffernan, Boyle and Blade (68). 

Referee: Chris Busby (IRFU).

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