Munster fall short away to Connacht after poor second half

Reds failed to score after taking an 8-3 advantage in a fiery clash at the Sportsgrounds
Munster fall short away to Connacht after poor second half

Kieran Marmion of Connacht is tackled by Alex Kendellen and Niall Scannell of Munster at The Sportsground. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Connacht 10 Munster 8 

CONNACHT deservedly saw off the challenge of unimaginative Munster on Saturday evening to secure a vital United Rugby Championship victory at the Sportsgrounds.

Connacht's Bundee Aki celebrates scoring their try. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland
Connacht's Bundee Aki celebrates scoring their try. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

The opening exchanges were predictably cagey, with both sides attempting to play their way into proceedings given their respective lack of rugby in recent weeks. We had to wait until the 15th minute for the opening score of the game, which came from the boot of Connacht out-half Jack Carty from 40m after Damian de Allende was blown for playing the ball while on the ground.

Munster struck straight back, however, with their young number 10 Ben Healy landing a replica penalty at the other end in the 17th minute to leave the scores level at the end of the first quarter.

Munster then struck for the opening try in the 23rd minute, with Connacht being the orchestrators of their own demise. A long relieving kick from Healy from inside his own 22 settled deep in Connacht’s 22 and Connacht’s left-wing Mack Hansen took an absolute age to get his clearing kick away and was duly blocked down by the industrious Healy. 

He had covered a huge amount of ground to pressurise the kick, and when Shane Daly hacked the ball into the in-goal area his fellow wing Andrew Conway was able to dot down in the left corner, for a score that was very much against the run of play.

Munster spent the final six or seven minutes of the opening half camped on the Connacht line, winning penalty after penalty, with second row Oisin Dowling being sin-binned for persistent infringements, but Munster’s lack of variation in their rugby really showed, as they were unable to go over from close range using a continuous barrage of one-up runners. 

Connacht’s impressive blindside Cian Prendergast turned them over, and Andy Friend’s side will have felt that going in 3-8 down at half time was actually a bit of a result for them.

The tetchy nature of the game continued with the second half starting with Connacht hooker Shane Delahunt and Munster out-half Ben Healy both being sin-binned due to an incident that occurred as the sides made their way into the dressing rooms at the end of the half.

Connacht’s replacement out-half Conor Fitzgerald missed a penalty attempt that tailed off to the left in the 43rd minute, as Connacht seemed to be in the ascendancy despite the fact they were playing with 13 men, against Munster’s 14.

Munster had another brilliant attacking opportunity in the 52nd minute but Munster scrum-half Craig Casey threw a terrible pass that was easily intercepted by his opposite number Kieran Marmion, and Casey had his full-back Mike Haley to thank for scrambling back and making a wonderful try-saving tackle.

The returning Healy then had an opportunity from the kicking tee in the 55th minute, but he sliced his effort to the right, to keep it as a one-score game.

Munster were soon to regret this miss, as a big moment arrived in the 57th minute when Munster centre Chris Farrell was given a yellow card for a high shot on Tom Farrell, and suddenly it was Munster’s turn to defend down a man.

Connacht showed that they were far more equipped to capitalise on their numerical superiority, as they went down the line and mauled Munster straight over, with centre Bundee Aki adding his considerable bulk to the maul and getting his hands on the ball to score. Fitzgerald then slotted the tricky conversion to give Connacht a crucial 10-8 lead.

Connacht choked the life out of the game in the last quarter, pinning Munster deep in their own 22 and Munster were unable to engineer a late chance and Connacht comfortably held on to secure the vital win.

Munster’s Fineen Wycherley dejected after the defeat on New Year's Day. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Munster’s Fineen Wycherley dejected after the defeat on New Year's Day. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

Scorers for Connacht: Carty (1 pen), Fitzgerald (1 con), Aki (1 try).

Munster: Healy (1 pen), Conway (1 try). 

CONNACHT: O’Halloran; Porch, Arnold, Aki, Hansen; Carty (capt), Marmion; Burke, Heffernan, Bealham; Dillane, Dowling; Prendergast, Oliver, Butler.

Subs: Fitzgerald for Carty (39), Murphy for Porch (47), Porch for Murphy (50), Farrell for Porch (55), Robertson-McCoy for Bealham (64), Masterson for Dillane (65), Murphy for Delahunt (66), Papalii for Prendergast (70), Tuimaugu for Burke (73). 

MUNSTER: Haley; Conway, Farrell, de Allende, S. Daly; Healy, Casey; Kilcoyne, N. Scannell, Archer; Kleyn, Wycherley; O’Donoghue (c), Kendellen, Coombes.

Subs: Ahern for Kleyn (44), Loughman, Barron and Knox for Kilcoyne, N. Scannell and Archer (60), J. Daly for Kendellen (63), Cronin for Casey (67).

Referee: Chris Busby (IRFU) 

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