Munster make the most of home comfort and potent maul to maintain momentum

Bonus-point win a reward for home side’s ambition but Connacht coach Friend left aggrieved with refereeing inconsistency

Munster 24 Connacht 17

This season’s URC campaign has been notable for the high ratio of home wins, and the two fixtures between these sides illustrated why perfectly.

Munster reversed their 20-11 loss at the Sportsground in early October when the home crowd roared Connacht to a deserved win, whereas here the Thomond Park faithful, appreciating the enormity of this result in Munster’s season, did likewise.

Not for the first or last time, they helped to give Munster the energy and belief to keep on pressing. They were rewarded for constantly turning down three-pointers to register a bonus point win, in large part due to scoring three tries off their lineout maul.


Another key factor, as is true throughout every league, is how home crowds influence officials’ decisions more often than not.

Connacht were leading 10-5 after the half-hour mark, thanks to Tom Farrell’s clean break off Bundee Aki’s half-break and offload, when Caolin Blade kicked cleverly in behind and a good chase by Farrell, Cian Prendergast and Byron Ralston led to the latter intercepting Mike Haley’s no-look pass inside to Joey Carbery.

The visitors had been awarded their fourth scrum penalty, and second full one, for another concerted shove when 30-year-old Italian referee Gianluca Gnecchi reversed the penalty in favour of Munster when the ‘afters’ looked very 50-50.

While trying to maintain his equilibrium, Andy Friend explained: “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.”

Friend will be annoyed with Buckley for even giving the referee a decision to make, although with a number of other calls probably in mind, right up to the last play when the in-form Man of the Match Tadhg Beirne grabbed Kieran Marmion’s arm at the base, he added: “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,” said Friend, clearly in reference to Jeremy Loughman pushing Porch after the whistle far more provocatively.

“All we want as coaches is consistency and I didn’t feel like that there in that instance.”

The earlier reversed penalty to Munster led to Roman Salanoa’s lineout maul try, which levelled the scoring before another pivotal moment.

It came after Carbery thankfully went off script from more aerial ping-pong with a thrilling, solo counter-attack against a lazy kick-chase before chipping Porch. It looked a case of Carbery running straight into the Connacht fullback, albeit Porch slightly lifted his right arm.

Carbery went to the corner, only for the outstanding Cian Prendergast to make the steal. He did so again when Carty was adjudged to have tackled John Hodnett in the air, even though Carty was already committed to the tackle and the Munster flanker only jumped because of Craig Casey’s looped pass. This second reversed penalty led to the maul, and ensuing pick-and-goes, led to John Ryan scoring Munster’s third try.

When Munster milked two more breakdown penalties, again Carbery went to the corner both times rather than make it a two-score game, they were rewarded by the maul try for Niall Scannell after a clever transfer in the air from Ryan to Gavin Coombes.

Graham Rowntree was entitled to praise his players’ ambition to go for the bonus point rather than making it a two-score game.

“We want to fire shots. You have seen that in our game throughout this season. We want to fire shots and score tries. I see a lot of teams do that. That decision-making I will leave to them but there are certain times when I will come in and demand something. That states where we are going.”

Marmion’s 73rd minute try earned Connacht the bonus point and meant this was a fifth one-score game in the sides’ last six meetings. But their attack hasn’t been as fluid this season, and here that was in large part because Munster successfully held up the carrier, slowed down Connacht’s ruck ball and won the breakdown battle.

“Yeah they did and that’s an area where we’ve been really strong this year I felt, our ruck speed and the lack of jackal penalties that have been against us,” said Friend. “But they had a real focus on that and didn’t allow us to play so that’s a compliment to them.

“We’ve got to be more aggressive with our cleans, simple as that, and when you don’t you know that they’re going to come hard at the ball there. We knew that but we weren’t as accurate as we needed to be.”

Even though it had a more tangible reward for Munster, this didn’t have anything like the same sense of occasion as their epic night in Páirc Uí Chaoimh against South Africa.

“It certainly felt like a momentum changer on the night,” said Rowntree of the latter.

“Some of the guys said it was the best game they ever played, in terms of atmosphere and whatever. We needed it. It was important for the club on so many fronts. It was just such an incredible night; the crowd were excellent, it is a great stadium. It was a case of maintaining momentum for this game. Tonight was not perfect but we got the win.”

Scoring sequence: 10 mins Carty pen 0-3; 12 mins Nash try 5-3; 27 mins Ralston try, Carty con 5-10; 37 mins Salanoa try 10-10; (half-time 10-10); 59 mins Ryan try, Carbery con 17-10; 66 mins N Scannell try, Carbery con 24-10; 74 mins Marmion try, Carty con 24-17.

Munster: Mike Haley, Calvin Nash, Antoine Frisch, Rory Scannell, Shane Daly, Joey Carbery, Craig Casey, Josh Wycherley, Diarmuid Barron, Roman Salanoa; Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne, Peter O’Mahony (CAPT), John Hodnett, Alex Kendellen. Replacements: Jack O’Donoghue for O’Mahony (36 mins), Jack Crowley for Haley (43 mins), Jeremy Loughman for Wycherley, John Ryan for Salanoa (both 49 mins), Niall Scannell for Barron, Gavin Coombes for Kendellen (both 54 mins), Edwin Edogbo for Kleyn (67 mins). Not used: Paddy Patterson.

Connacht: John Porch, Byron Ralston, Tom Farrell, Bundee Aki, Alex Wootton, Jack Carty (CAPT) Caolin Blade; Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Josh Murphy, Gavin Thornbury, Cian Prendergast, Conor Oliver, Jarrad Butler. Replacements: Jack Aungier for Bealham, Oisín Dowling for Murphy, Paul Boyle for Butler (all 52 mins), Conor Fitzgerald for Ralston (58 mins), Peter Dooley for Buckley (60 mins), Shane Delahunt for Heffernan, Niall Murray for Thornbury, Kieran Marmion for Blade (all 65 mins). Sinbinned: Porch (48-58 mins)

Referee: Gianluca Gnecchi (FIR)

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times