Munster depart Connacht with bonus point win
Munster’s Paul O’Connell is tackled by Conor Gilsenan of Connacht during the RaboDirect Pro12 game at the Sportsground in Galway. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
CONNACHT 20 MUNSTER 32
For Munster, job done. A bonus point win, with no additional injury concerns, permitted Rob Penney to rest up several frontliners and make sparing use of his bench with next week in mind. It also atoned for last week’s inaccurate defeat at home to Glasgow while elevating them to second place in the table and four points ahead of the fast-finishing Warriors, who have a game in hand.
The pleasant end-of-season conditions and the excellent Sportsground surface encouraged both teams to give the ball plenty of air and use the full width of the pitch.
Ironically, noting the conditions in Galway were, for once, not a million miles removed from what they will face the south of France next Sunday, Rob Penney ventured that both sides enjoyed the hard track.
“I thought Connacht played bloody well and we got the lucky couple of breaks, and it got away on them. But the game was a lot closer than the score might have indicated, and it’s a lot of credit to Connacht and the way they’re going.
“They’ve got a good group of young lads in there, and they’re going to be tough going forward.”
In Pat Lam’s view, Connacht “gifted Munster 27 points”, and whatever the exact total, Connacht were certainly excessively benevolent.
After four wins in a row, in which they conceded just five tries, Connacht have now leaked 16 tries in their last three games.
Lam attributes this to their extensive injury list, leaving “guys out on their feet” and noted they selected one player “who should have been working on the bar tonight” which, in the case of their fifth-choice and debutant hooker Jack Dinneen, is literally true.
Dinneen, of good Limerick stock, was due to work in the bar at the ground but instead ended up making his debut.
For the first half hour or so, a vibrant and capacity 6,227 crowd containing mostly home fans were seemingly going to be treated to a cracking derby. Nearing the end of the first quarter they had traded the lead and remarkably similar tries after Miah Nikora had opened the scoring.
First Robbie Henshaw and then Paddy Butler fumbled restarts just inside their 22s, enabling first Munster and then Connacht to manufacture tries for their respective left-wingers, Andrew Conway and Matt Healy, with good strike moves.
Conway scored on an in-and-out run up the middle from Duncan Williams’ reverse pass with a mite too much ease – neither Eoin McKeon nor Kieran Marmion filling the yawning gap which Willie Falloon left on his re-appearance after seven months’ out.
Healy’s was the more classical left-winger’s finish after Eoin Griffin’s superb cut out pass beat the onrushing four-up defence for the impressive Darragh Leader to draw Denis Hurley with the try-scoring pass.
Off a rock solid scrum, you won’t see many set-piece tries this season. However, after two Ian Keatley penalties, Connacht opted to go to the corner with a kickable penalty moments after Danie Poolman had put a foot over the touch-in-goal line before touching down off Nikora’s cross-kick.
Alas for them, they turned the ball over off Mick Kearney’s take with a poorly set up maul and to compound this, soon after Henshaw took the ball to the line and his no-look pass intended for Leader was picked off by Gerhard van den Heever for an intercept try from half-way.
Instead of trailing 11-13, Connacht were 8-20 adrift and within three minutes Eoin McKeon spilled the ball in contact.
Williams, who had a very good game, quick-wittedly chipped into space, gathered the high bounce one-handed and put Hurley away with a lovely left-to-right pass.
As half-time approached, home team and crowd alike were as deflated as a punctured tyre.
Connacht made as good a fist of it as they could in the second half, hammering away after going to the corner with a rare penalty, and debutant ex-Clongowes backrower Conor Gilsenan took an intended skip pass from Nikora that was probably intended to miss him and put McKeon over in the corner.
The impressive Nikora, who has seemingly added distance to his kicking game, also tagged over a penalty but with their scrum on top (John Ryan could feel proud of his 80-minute stint) it was Munster who came calling for their offensive bonus point.
After some brave last-ditch defending on their line – Denis Buckley making one vital turnover and Henshaw tackling Conway into touch – lineout pressure from Paul O’Connell enabled Donnacha O’Callaghan to brilliantly claim the ball on the deck.
There was an inevitability about the ensuing try by man-of-the-match Paddy Butler, and a small measure of compensation for the loyal home crowd was the under-served Poolman showing good anticipation, hands and pace to score an intercept try.
As usual the penalty count (8-4) and most of the breaks went against Connacht, one notable example being an astonishingly inept call by linesman David Wilkinson when Eoin Griffin – whose productive night at first inside and then outside centre makes his departure to London Irish all the more disappointing – tackled Hurley around the arms to force the spillage forward over the touchline as the Munster fullback sought to pass the ball out of the tackle.
Wilkinson decreed it a lineout to Munster, and the Clan’s sense of injustice hit new heights.
Scoring sequence: 15 mins: Nikora pen 3-0; 17 mins : Conway try, Keatley con 3-7; 19 mins: Healy try 8-7; 26 mins : Keatley pen 8-10; 29 mins : Keatley pen 8-13; 34 mins : Van den Heever try, Keatley con 8-20; 37 mins : Hurley try, Keatley con 8-27; (half-time 8-27); 54 mins: McKeon try 13-27; 73 mins : Butler try 13-32; 78 mins : Poolman try, Parks con 20-32.
CONNACHT : Darragh Leader; Danie Poolman, Robbie Henshaw, Eoin Griffin, Matt Healy; Miah Nikora, Kieran Marmion; Ronan Loughney, Jason Harris-Wright, Rodney Ah You, Michael Kearney, Andrew Browne, John Muldoon (capt), Willie Faloon, Eoin McKeon. Replacements : Conor Gilsenan for Falloon (49 mins), David McSharry for Leader (52 mins), Aly Muldowney for McKeon (54 mins), Denis Buckley for Loughney (58 mins), Dan Parks for Nikora (70 mins), Jack Dinneen for Harris-Wright, Finlay Bealham for Ah You (both 74 mins), Frank Murphy for Marmion (76 mins)
MUNSTER: Denis Hurley; Gerhard van den Heever, Johne Murphy, James Downey, Andrew Conway; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; David Kilcoyne, Damien Varley (capt), John Ryan, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell, CJ Stander, Sean Dougall, Paddy Butler. Replacements : Tommy O’Donnell for Dougall (60 mins), Quentin MacDonald for Varley (70 mins), Gerry Hurley for D Williams, Conor Murray for Keatley, Ronan O’Mahony (all 74 mins), Alan Cotter for Kilcoyne (76 mins), Billy Holland for O’Connell (77 mins). Not used : BJ Botha
Referee : Marius Mitrea (FIR)