JJ Hanrahan steers steady Munster past Connacht
Little sign of festive spirit in bad-tempered clash as Connacht secure bonus point
Seán Dougall is the meat in the sandwich as the Munster man is tackled by Connacht’s Craig Clarke and Dan Parks in last night’s game at Thomond Park. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
MUNSTER 22, CONNACHT 16
Munster scorers: Try: Hanrahan; Con: Hanrahan;
Pens: Hanrahan (5)
Connacht scorers: Try: Heffernan; Con: Parks;
Pens: Parks (3)
There was little sign of festive spirit in a bad-tempered RaboDirect PRO12 clash at Thomond Park where leaders Munster continued their dominance in this fixture but where Connacht rallied to snatch a bonus point in the final play of the night.
Munster never looked like losing despite making 14 changes from last weekend’s win over Scarlets but they struggled to put Connacht away and Pat Lam’s men will be pleased to get something from a venue where they have won just once in over eight decades of trying.
They rounded off a memorable December with replacement hooker Dave Heffernan going over in the final play for their first try in the last five away fixtures against Munster. Dan Parks added the far from easy conversion from the right to seal the bonus point.
JJ Hanrahan belied the elements to produce an excellent display which will put him strongly in contention for the number 10 shirt when the Heineken Cup resumes.
He scored all their points and coach Rob Penney said that it is clear the Kerry man is on an upward curve. “He didn’t have the best of games last week, but he is a assiduous, conscientious young man who is trying hard.
“He has good people around him, Simon Mannix and Ian Costello are working hard with him and it is bearing fruit, he is a talented kid who’s making huge progress.”
Munster led 13-6 at the break without ever getting on top for any sustained period during an opening half where both sides were guilty of basic mistakes, especially at lineout.
Hanrahan edged them in front with a 30-metre penalty after nine minutes but Connacht were clearly up for the fight, with a good scrum and lineout, and deservedly drew level five minutes later when Dan Parks landed a penalty from the right.
The former Scottish outhalf edged the visitors in front three minutes later after Matt Healy got a hit on Keith Earls after an up and under from Parks and Robbie Henshaw followed through to nab Ronan O’Mahony and force the penalty.
Munster hit the front at the end of the opening quarter when Hanrahan took his career haul in the competition past the 100-point mark with a try and conversion. The move originated with a misplaced Garryowen from Parks which John Murphy countered from and while the initial burst from James Downey was halted by Gavin Duffy, a few recycles later resulted in Hanrahan stepping inside Parks and holding off the challenge of Mick Kearney to score his third try of the campaign.
It was a score which deflated Connacht’s challenge, although they were unfortunate for prop Nathan White to be whistled back as he burst towards the line for a mistaken knock-on call at a lineout.
Hanrahan, having converted his own try, extended Munster’s lead with a penalty after he had countered well after scrumhalf Frank Murphy, making his 100th appearance for Connacht against his native province, had his kick blocked.
But a couple of penalties to the right corner by Munster were well defended before the break. Murphy’s 100th cap reached an ignominious conclusion three minutes after the restart when he was sin-binned for holding back James Cronin.