Munster’s Rainbow Cup aspirations have taken a turn for the worse with a hugely frustrating loss to Connacht at a wet and cold Thomond Park.
Johann van Graan’s side enjoyed plenty of possession and territory but conceded two tries that will go down as ‘soft’ while having a pair of their own ruled out by the TMO. It was that type of evening for them after encouraging wins over Leinster and Ulster.
Kudos, of course, have to go to Connacht for a wonderful backs-to-the-wall win.
The timing of it all could hardly have been worse for the hosts given the news earlier in the day that the final will after all be a ‘North v South’ affair with the South African ‘champions’ travelling to a European venue, yet to be confirmed, for the decider on June 19th.
That leaves Munster, and anyone else with serious aspirations to win the Rainbow Cup, with little room for error, so it was Sod’s Law that there should be so many mistakes in a game where Lady Luck seemed to hold a grudge against them as well.
Connacht were far better here than when welcoming Leinster to Galway last week and, after a blistering start, allowing the visitors to run riot and knock up 50 points. It made for a fine diversion on a filthy Friday evening.
The visitors landed the first blow with a Conor Fitzgerald penalty, but it could have been more had they been able to force a way over the Munster line on one of their numerous pick and goes. Still, a mark had been made.
Munster showed them how to execute with some up-the-jumper stuff of their own shortly after, James Cronin trundling over off the back of a carbon copy template of play but one that produced more incisive bursts and a touchdown at the end of it.
Up 7-3, they allowed Connacht to land a sucker punch immediately afterwards, the kick-off missing the airborne Billy Holland, slipping through the fingers of the surprised Shane Daly, and ending up in the hands of Sammy Arnold who made gratefully for the corner.
“Not good enough,” shouted a Munster voice from the stand.
— Connacht Rugby (@connachtrugby) May 14, 2021
It got worse for Daly who received a yellow card for what was perceived to be a deliberate knock-on from a Fitzgerald pass and then the same Connacht out-half made that superiority of numbers count before the winger returned.
Working off a lineout on the Munster 22, Fitzgerald was eventually fed the ball and, with two men outside him, tucked it under his arm when he saw a dogleg and made for the chalk. His own conversion marked his and Connacht’s 17th point.
Ten adrift, Munster were all brawn to Connacht’s blitz. Andy Friend’s side were one stray pass away from adding another try on at least three occasions in the opening quarter or so but maybe more concerning was their struggles in the scrum.
So worrying in fact that Friend gave his two props the shepherd’s hook just before the interval when another scrum was called and, by which stage, Munster had reduced the deficit to just three points with a Rhys Marshall try.
Van Graan’s side played some lovely stuff against a supine Ulster here last week but they were more agricultural in this one and Marshall’s score came off the back of a lineout maul in which even Damien de Allende joined the cause.
Down 17-14 at the break, Munster pressed the self-destruct button again within seconds of the restart when Craig Casey’s pass flew behind the intended receiver. Shane Delahunt and Cian Prendergast hoofed it on and then Kieran Marmion collected the stray and went over.
It wasn’t looking like Munster’s day, even more so when Peter O’Mahony went over after 45 minutes only for the effort to be cancelled out by the TMO. More frustration would be found in the opposition 22 as they continued to chase the game.
Van Graan emptied a star-studded bench but to no avail. A huge win for Connacht who can now harbour their own thoughts of a possible final. An even bigger defeat for Munster.