Munster 24 Connacht 17
MUNSTER got their URC season firmly back on track with a crucial bonus point victory over provincial rivals Connacht at Thomond Park on Saturday evening.
Munster would have been looking to stamp their authority early doors, but some basic errors undermined their early efforts, with Connacht being in the ascendancy, and the visitors were duly rewarded when outhalf Jack Carty slotted a ninth-minute penalty from 30m to open the scoring.
Munster needed to get the home crowd roaring quickly and they did so with their first meaningful attack. Scrum-half Craig Casey picked at the back of a scrum on the Connacht 22 in the 11th minute to snipe down the blindside, and he delayed his pass to the onrushing Calvin Nash perfectly, to send the wing over in the right corner for the game’s opening try.
Not for the first time this year the Munster scrum was under severe pressure, and when Connacht ran from deep in their own half, with a scrum penalty advantage in the bank, they made huge yardage through centre Tom Farrell. The Munster defence did get itself organised and won the ball back but full-back Mike Haley threw an inside pass to Joey Carbery that was never on, just metres from his own line, and Connacht wing Ryron Ralston intercepted for the easiest try he will ever score, in the 26th minute.
The Italian referee reversed a scrum penalty in the 33rd minute after Connacht loose head Denis Buckley had celebrated the penalty with win too much exuberance, allowing Munster access into the Connacht 22, with the great irony being that it was struggling tight head Roman Salanoa who ended up dotting down at the back of a rolling maul in the 37th minute to level matters.
Munster had a chance to kick themselves into the lead right on half time, but they backed themselves to go to the corner, but this time Connacht resisted the maul and a Rory Scannell knock-on signalled the short whistle, with the scores locked at 10-10.
The crowd really found its voice in the 49th minute when Joey Carbery made a superb break up the middle, and when he kicked ahead and thought he was in a straight foot-race with former Munster man Alex Wooton to touch down he got taken out of it by Connacht’s John Porch, with the full-back duly being shown a yellow card for his efforts.
It looked like Munster were going to fail to capitalise on their numerical advantage during this period but in the 58th-minute replacement prop John Ryan burrowed over from close range, and Munster had a crucial seven-point lead.
Munster had picked a strong bench for this one, and as the game entered its final quarter that began to pay dividends, as the Munster maul muscled Connacht over in the 65th minute for the bonus point try, with Niall Scannell bagging himself the try.
Just when Munster thought the game was in the bag Kieran Marmion sniped over for a Connacht try in the 73rd minute after sustained pressure to reduce the deficit to seven.
For a brief moment Connacht thought they could be party poopers in Limerick, but they never really threatened the Munster line after, and when Jack Crowley kicked the ball dead after the clock ticked past the 80-minute mark, the Thomond crowd were able to breathe a huge sigh of relief.
Carbery (2 cons), Nash, Salanoa, Ryan, N Scannell (1 try each).
Carty (1 pen, 2 cons), Ralston, Marmion (1 try each).
Haley; Nash, Frisch, R Scannell, Daly; Carbery, Casey; Wycherley, Barron, Salanoa; Kleyn, Beirne; O'Mahony (c), Hodnett, Kendellen.
O’Donoghue for O’Mahony (36), Crowley for Haley (43), Loughman and Ryan for Wycherley and Salanoa (49), N Scannell and Coombes for Barron and Kendellen (52), Edogbo for Kleyn (67).
Porch; Ralston, Farrell, Aki, Wooton; Carty, Blade; Buckley, Heffernan, Bealham; Murphy, Thornbury; Prendergast, Oliver, Butler (c).
Aungier, Dowling and Boyle for Bealham, J Murphy and Butler (52), Fitzgerald for Ralston (58), Dooley for Buckley (60), Delahunt, Murray and Marmion for Heffernan, Thornley and Blade (65).
Gianluca Gnecchi (IRF)