MANAGER Graham Rowntree praised his team’s smartness after Munster sealed a hard-fought bonus-point BKT URC 24-17 win over derby rivals Connacht at Thomond Park on Saturday night.
It was an interprovincial battle between two sides desperately looking to move away from the wrong end of the table after disappointing starts to the URC campaign and though Connacht came into this round-eight clash a point better off and with three wins from their last four league outings, Munster had been buoyed by their victory over South Africa A on a historic night at Cork’s Pairc Ui Caoimh 16 days earlier.
That Munster get to continue the momentum they gathered from that victory is thanks to tries from wing Calvin Nash and three lineout maul finishes from front-rowers Roman Salanoa and replacements John Ryan and Niall Scannell, Connacht keeping the game alive until the dying minutes with a Kieran Marmion try that added to Byron Ralston’s first-half intercept score.
It gave Munster their first derby win of the campaign following early-season losses at Connacht and Leinster and at home to Ulster and their head coach pinpointed the keys to victory.
“We were smart with the ball. Our kicking game was smart, our maul and maul defence was good,” Rowntree said.
“Our discipline is still a work-on. We are still giving teams access to our 22. I was pleased with the win.
“It wasn’t perfect by any means, I said that to the lads afterwards. They’re a good team but compared to our performance down in Galway last month, we were a lot better.”
Munster had been beaten 20-11 at the Sportsground on October 7 and Rowntree described the improvements in performance levels that have been made since by both the squad and a new coaching ticket.
“There has been a lot of development. We're still learning. We’ve had more training time with the coaches, a bit more of a settled squad. We had a lot of moving parts last month with unavailability.
"We just kept hammering at what we have been doing well in training.
“There’s been no panic. Things have not gone our way but you control what you can every day. I've seen the body of work we’ve been doing.
"Hard work tends to pay off and we’ve worked hard. More training time, more work with the coaches, more of a settled squad. Hopefully things are going to turn the corner. It looks like they are.”
Connacht director of rugby Andy Friend was left to rue what he felt was a self-inflicted defeat, with John Porch sin-binned on 48 minutes, despite his sense the visitors had had a frustrating hand dealt to them by Italian referee Gianluca Gnecchi, who overturned a scrum penalty following a minor altercation between the front rows that led to Munster’s go-ahead third try from Salanoa.
Friend pleaded for more consistency from officials as described the overturned penalty.
“About five minutes before there’d been a bit of push-me-shove-you, and he said to both captains ‘after the whistle we can’t have people coming in.’ And he’d blown the whistle and then it appeared that Denis (Buckley) had pushed Roman Salanoa, so he reversed the penalty there.
“But if you continue on with the game after the yellow card when John Porch goes off there’s another push-me-shove-you but nothing gets done with that. So all we want as coaches is consistency and I didn’t feel like that there in that instance."