Munster left to rue errors as Connacht claim first Thomond Park win since 2015
Commitment to hassle Johann van Graan’s side earns province remarkable victory
Connacht players celebrate at the final after beating Munster at Thomond Park. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Munster 20 Connacht 24
To the victors the spoils and the plaudits, Connacht’s first victory at Thomond Park since 2015 and only their second in 35 years was every bit as compelling and meritorious as those in the RDS and Kingspan Stadium earlier in the year. It was a remarkable win in a match that contained a little bit of everything – feisty, entertaining and utterly engrossing.
Munster had two tries chalked off, once for blocking, the other for a knock-on and were left to rue some elementary mistakes and indiscipline that cost them dearly in a pulsating contest of small margins. The defeat has ramifications beyond losing their unbeaten record, the news earlier in the day confirming that only the team that finishes top of the Pro12 table would contest the Rainbow Cup final rendered it a costly loss.
The game was pockmarked by several shemozzles and on two occasions it involved the replacements, a crazy situation that unnecessarily fanned frayed tempers; the spice though added a piquancy that flavoured every collision.
Several young Connacht players came of age in a game that will define the early stages of their fledgling careers, man of the match Niall Murray, Cian Prendergast and Sean O’Brien were standouts in that respect, galvanised by the example set by senior players captain, Tom Daly, Ultan Dillane, Kieran Marmion and Conor Oliver; every Connacht player in the 23 deserved a slice of the glory.
There was much to admire in Connacht’s performance in the first half and they would have enjoyed a bigger advantage than 17-14 at the interval but for a contentious officiating decision. Leading 17-7, Alex Wootton’s pass was adjudged forward as the visitors swept down the pitch on a counterattack; it looked a very harsh call.
From the ensuing scrum, John Ryan earned Munster a penalty, Healy kicked to the corner and from a second lineout, the pack with some supplementary bodies from the backline mauled Connacht over the line with hooker Rhys Marshall touching down. Healy’s conversion made it 17-14.
Connacht outhalf Conor Fitzgerald was an impressive presence in the opening 40 minutes, both in his all round game and a beautifully taken try. He looped around Tom Daly and a dummy allowed him to scoot through a gap and dot down close to the posts. He also converted an opportunist try from Sammy Arnold and kicked a penalty.
Munster responded with tries from prop James Cronin and Marshall, homilies to their forward power with Ben Healy improving on both of them. The home side were left to rue a pass that went to ground, less than 60 seconds after the interval, Prendergast’s definitive fly-hack, the preamble to a sequence that saw Marmion regather possession and cross for a try that Fitzgerald converted to make it 24-14 to Connacht.
Munster summoned their illustrious bench, but with the two disallowed tries the only traction they managed on the scoreboard was a penalty apiece from Healy, a thunderous effort from long range, and Joey Carbery.
It allowed them back to within touching distance at 24-20 behind but Connacht’s tenacity and unrelenting commitment to the hassling and harrying their hosts saw them survive to a final whistle that signalled a momentous victory.
Scoring sequence: 4 mins: Fitzgerald penalty, 0-3; 7: Cronin try, Healy conversion, 7-3; 9: Arnold try, Fitzgerald conversion, 10-7; 27: Fitzgerald try, Fitzgerald conversion, 7-17; 34: Marshall try, Healy conversion, 14-17. Half-time: 14-17. 41: Marmion try, Fitzgerald conversion, 14-24; 51: Healy penalty, 17-24; 64: Carbery penalty, 20-24.
Munster: M Gallagher; A Conway, D Goggin, D de Allende, S Daly; B Healy, C Casey; J Cronin, R Marshall, J Ryan; J Kleyn, B Holland; J O’Donoghue, P O’Mahony, CJ Stander (capt). Replacements: C Murray for Casey 14-28 and 52 mins (HIA, blood); N Scannell for Marshall 47 mins; T Beirne for Holland 52 mins; D Kilcoyne for Cronin 58 mins; S Archer for Archer 58 mins; J Carbery for Healy 62 mins; K Earls for Gallagher 70 mins; F Wycherley for Kleyn 78 mins.
Yellow card: S Daly (Munster) 22 mins.
Connacht: J Porch; S Arnold, S O’Brien, T Daly (capt), A Wootton; C Fitzgerald, K Marmion; P McAllister, S Delahunt, D Robertson-McCoy; N Murray, U Dillane; C Prendergast, C Oliver, A Papali’i. Replacements: D Buckley for McAllister (blood) 9-14 and 39 mins; F Bealham for Robertson-McCoy 39 mins; S Masterson for Oliver 46 mins; J Carty for Fitzgerald 54 mins; D Heffernan for Delahunt 56 mins; C Blade for Marmion 65 mins; E Masterson for Papali’i 70 mins; P Sullivan for Arnold 70 mins.
Referee: D Jones (Wales)