Bundee Aki’s try sees Connacht edge tempestuous clash with Munster

Both sides have players sent to the bin as Andy Friend’s hosts show resilience to win

Connacht 10 Munster 8

The New Year honours went Connacht’s way at the Galway Sportsground as they ground out a deserved win over visitors Munster.

In only their second victory in their previous 10 meetings, Andy Friend’s Connacht were worthy victors, having dominated possession and endeavouring to play most of the attacking rugby.

It certainly was not vintage interprovincial fare, but of the two coaches Friend will be happier that his side delivered a winning performance, having been reduced to 13 players at one stage.

Munster, although missing some key players, simply failed to play enough positive rugby, relying on Connacht mistakes and their forward pack. But on this occasion they did not get sufficient change from their efforts up front as Connacht’s work on their defensive maul came up trumps.

Connacht's backrow of Jarrad Butler, Conor Oliver and man of the match Cian Prendergast can take a bow for delivering a dogged and relentless performance - the entire pack standing solid in an area where Munster were expected to prevail, while behind the scrum Kieran Marmion was in superb attacking form.

Connacht, as always, tried to play the game with ball in hand, but too many mistakes proved costly, and by the end of the opening half, they still were unable to break through the Munster defence, while conceding a vital try as Munster led 8-3 at the break.

Scrappy from the start, Munster simply gave Connacht too many early penalties before out half Jack Carty opened the scoring in the 15th minute. However, the visitors' riposte was swift - within a minute Ben Healy had replied to level the scores before Johann van Graan's men were gifted the opening try against the run of play. Andrew Conway was quickest to react after Connacht wing Mack Hansen was too slow to clear a Healy delivery. When Mike Haley successfully blocked the kick, it provided Munster with an easy score as Conway, with his covering dash, secured the loose ball to touch down.

It gave the visitors some impetus as they took control, but despite securing a handful of penalties which had their opponents under the pump, they failed to get over the line again.

If Connacht’s attack has received plaudits this season, then so too its defensive efforts, not just in the set-piece, but out wide where Hansen, Tiernan O’Halloran, Bundee Aki played crucial roles.

After Oisin Dowling was yellow carded before the break, the fractious nature of the game continued at the half-time whistle as both teams exited the field - resulting in Connacht's hooker Shane Delahunt and Healy receiving yellow cards from Busby at the start of the second half .

But it was the home side who weathered that period better. Conor Fitzgerald, having replaced Carty who was forced to retire, missed a penalty kick, but Connacht continued to dominate possession. Execution may have been their failing, but Munster offered little in return, particularly after Chris Farrell saw yellow for a high tackle on replacement Tom Farrell.

Connacht seized the opportunity, capitalising on the game’s fourth yellow card, and delivered what was the game’s killer blow. From a lineout, Dillane secured possession, and from a huge surge, helped by Bundee Aki’s additional presence, the home side secured the winning try, scored by the Lions centre. Replacement Fitzgerald nailed the touchline kick which put Connacht in front after 59 minutes.

If that score was crucial in putting Friend’s ahead, so too was how they closed out the game. They continued to utilise their much improved set-piece to keep Munster pinned inside their opponent’s half, and in the end beat Munster at their own game.

Connacht: Tiernan O'Halloran; John Porch, Sammy Arnold, Bundee Aki, Mack Hansen; Jack Carty (capt), Kieran Marmion; Matthew Burke, Shane Delahunt, Finlay Bealham; Ultan Dillane, Oisín Dowling; Cian Prendergast, Conor Oliver, Jarrad Butler. Replacements: Conor Fitzgerald for Carty (39m), Tom Farrell for John Porch (54), Dominic Robertson-McCoy for Bealham (63), Jonny Murphy for Delahunt (65), Tietie Tuimauga for Burke (72), Eoghan Masterson for Dillane (64) , Abraham Papali'i for Prendergast (69), Tietie Tuimauga for Burke (72). Yellow Cards - Connacht, Dowling (37), Delahunt (40)

Munster: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende, Shane Daly; Ben Healy, Craig Casey; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer; J Kleyn, Fineen Wycherley; Jack O'Donoghue (capt), Alex Kendellen, Gavin Coombes. Replacements: T Ahern for J Kleyn (44m), Jeremy Loughman for Kilcoyne, Keynan Knox for Archer, and Diarmuid Barron for Scannell (all 58), Jack Daly for Kendellen (63), Neil Cronin for Casey (67). Yellow cards - Healy (40), Farrell (56).

Referee: Chris Busby (IRFU).