Andy Friend puzzled by officiating after narrow interpro defeat

Controversy surrounds Chris Cloete try as apparent offside missed in the build-up

Peter O’Mahony claims a high ball during Munster’s win over Connacht. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Peter O’Mahony claims a high ball during Munster’s win over Connacht. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

Munster 20 Connacht 18

The advent of the South African sides has added another dimension to the revamped URC and will in time enhance the competition, but in time-honoured fashion, the first interpro of the season signalled a notable upgrade on the below average standard of competitiveness to date.

This was a fifth meeting between these two in a little over a year and was another richly competitive one too, with the greasy pill almost adding to the entertainment.

“It’s a credit to both teams,” said Johann van Graan, admitting this game was “certainly the toughest” of their four games so far.

“That’s the beauty of rugby, every one of them is different, and this one was a massive step-up in intensity. It’s not a classic but for the purist it’s a battle.”

Connacht were not of a mind to be the support act on the fifth anniversary of Anthony Foley’s passing and as expected it was a feisty encounter between these two western neighbours.

Both sides competed fiercely on both the opposition throws, where Connacht caused Munster unusual difficulties, and especially at the breakdown, where referee Chris Busby certainly allowed a contest - if anything favouring the man in the jackal excessively.

Connacht signalled their intent with a clean line break off the first lineout of the night when Jack Carty took Caolin Blade’s flat low pass to the line and used the decoy runs of Conor Oliver and Bundee Aki to put Mack Hansen through a hole between Joey Carbery and Rory Scannell.

That set the tone for the night, for they had the better launch plays. They also played with more width (whereas Hansen was heavily employed, Simon Zebo may as well have been in the stands), had the most potent backs in Bundee Aki and Hansen, and Carty also kicked beautifully.

Carty had the better of his duel with Joey Carbery, notably when charging down the latter’s punt for the second Connacht try which put them ahead entering the last ten minutes.

With this week’s Irish squad for the November series in mind, Andy Friend said: “Totally, 100 per cent he (Carty) has put his hand up. I think he’s done it on more than just tonight, because that’s all season, and there’s a few other boys who’ve done that as well. These blokes will keep putting their best foot forward, it’s up to others to acknowledge that and to see the energy and the skill that they’re playing with, and hopefully again we get a fair representation in the national team.”

By contrast, the gifted Carbery still seems to lack confidence in his running game, though not in his place kicking. To his credit, he nailed the match-winning conversion to Diarmuid Barron’s 78th minute try, whereas Carty’s earlier conversion of Paul Boyle’s close-range finish from his own tap penalty hit the upright.

“Joey is a world class player. He’s made one or two errors and has had some big moments,” said van Graan. “The positive thing is he kicked that conversion, not only for him but for the team, so we’re really glad about that.”

Small margins. Critically too, the TMO Brian MacNeice and referee Chris Busby spent over a minute reviewing the one-handed flick by Tiernan O’Halloran before correctly ruling out Hansen’s touchdown, viewing slow motion replays three times and using the five metre line as a gauge.

They used over a minute and 40 seconds to review the double hit on Mike Haley by Aki and Sammy Arnold at least four times before sin-binning the latter when a penalty seemed sufficient punishment.

But it appeared they didn’t review the still frame of Rory Scannell’s crosskick for Tadhg Beirne to meet on the volley before hacking on for Chris Cloete to win the touchdown in the penultimate play of the first-half.

In this Busby - a very promising referee who has an authority about him, even if the reluctance to play advantage was perhaps a sign of nerves here - was let down by MacNeice; using the ten metre line as a gauge it clearly demonstrates that Scannell was behind it and Beirne in front of it when the former put boot to ball.

Lamenting these inconsistencies, Friend had an entirely valid point when observing: “Tiernan knocks the ball on for Mack Hansen’s try. Now it is a knock-on. There’s a lot of time spent on that. The correct decision was made then, the ball went forward off the hand, so you say fair enough, the officials are meant to be making sure that we’re getting clean and accurate scores.

“I thought the yellow card for Sammy Arnold was a very harsh call. I then thought, in fact I know, when Rory Scannell puts the crossfield kick in that you have got Tadhg Beirne offside but it doesn’t get looked at. It doesn’t get pored over in the same manner. They end up getting seven points for that, and at the end of the day they win by two points. I am frustrated and annoyed by that.”

Yet somehow, not least on the night that was in it, you sensed that Munster - willed on by the faithful - would find a way, all the more so after Fineen Wycherley was awarded a turnover scrum when holding up Niall Murray from the restart to Carty’s try and conversion.

Resorting to the bludgeon of their forwards again, although Connacht were not for wilting, sure enough they did, Jack O’Donoghue popping the ball to Barron by way of variety from the pick-and-jams to plough over. Cue Carbery applying the coup de grace.

Scoring sequence: 2 mins Carty pen 0-3; 10 mins Carty pen 0-6; 39 mins Cloete try, Carbery con 7-6; (half-time 7-6); 49 mins Carbery pen 10-6; 53 mins Boyle try 10-11; 59 mins Carbery pen 13-11; 69 mins Carty try and con 13-18; 78 mins Barron try, Carbery con 20-18.

Munster: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Keith Earls, Rory Scannell, Simon Zebo; Joey Carbery, Craig Casey; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne; Peter O’Mahony (capt), Chris Cloete, Gavin Coombes.

Replacements: Diarmuid Barron for N Scannell, Jeremy Loughman for Kilcoyne, Stephen Archer for Ryan (all 54 mins), Dan Goggin for R Scannell (57 mins), Fineen Wycherley for Kleyn (60 mins), Jack O’Donoghue for Cloete (68 mins).

Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, John Porch, Sammy Arnold, Bundee Aki, Mack Hansen; Jack Carty (capt), Caolin Blade; Matthew Burke, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Niall Murray, Ultan Dillane, Cian Prendergast, Conor Oliver, Paul Boyle. Replacements : Jarrad Butler for Prendergast (47 mins), Shane Delahunt for Heffernan, Abraham Papali’i for Boyle (59 mins), Kieran Marmion for Blade (61 mins), Jack Aungier for Bealham (64 mins), Greg McGrath for Burke, Eoghan Masterson for Dillane (74 mins).

Referee: Chris Busby (IRFU)

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