Munster 20 Connacht 24
Rainbow Cup, Round 3 – Thomond Park, Friday 14th May 2021
Connacht dug out a gritty win in torrential conditions against a strongly fancied Munster side in Thomond Park. It was a much-improved performance from Andy Friend’s side from last Saturday’s capitulation against Leinster at home. For Johann van Graan’s Munster side it’s a serious setback to their Rainbow Cup ambitions after wins over Leinster and Ulster in the first two rounds.
The announcement earlier today that the inaugural Rainbow Cup will now culminate in a ‘North v South’ final on June 19th has added a layer to intrigue to this previously unheralded competition. Munster’s ambitions in this competition have been made clear from their opening team selection against Leinster. They are anxious to stop the now decade-long trophy drought. However, Connacht also had a point to prove after shipping fifty points against Leinster last time out.
Conor Fitzgerald got the scoring underway for the visitors with a penalty after four minutes. It didn’t take Munster long to respond and after a series of pick and go drives James Cronin crashed over. Ben Healy added the extras. Munster were massive favorites with the bookies pre-game and the apparent ease of the score made one fear the worst for Connacht. But Andy Friend’s side weren’t working off the same script. Immediately from the restart, the underdogs hit back with a try in the corner for Sammy Arnold who beat Craig Casey in the air after Billy Holland had fumbled the kickoff. Arnold then raced clear to score. Conor Fitzgerald nailed the conversion from under the East stand.
After a frantic opening ten minutes, the game calmed down somewhat after that. A knock to Craig Casey shortly after saw an early introduction for Conor Murray for the duration of the HIA. The rain that had been threatening all day arrived after 15 minutes making the ball-handling trickier.
Munster’s Shane Daly was given a yellow card on 22 minutes for a deliberate knock-on. Connacht made the extra man count with a superb try from Conor Fitzgerald. The out-half took a superb line to cut open the Munster rearguard, when perhaps they expected a pass outside. Fitzgerald then converted his own score and Connacht led by ten just before the half-hour mark.
Munster found a way back into the game through a familiar route. The Connacht defense was powerless to stop a driving maul off the back of a lineout. Hooker Rhys Marshall was the man to touch it down. Ben Healy added the conversion to cut the gap back to three points.
Half-time: Munster 14 Connacht 17
Connacht’s first attack of the second half yielded their third try of the game. A kick ahead was gathered by Kieran Marmion who raced in for the score. The conversion stretched the westerners’ lead out to ten.
Munster thought they had reduced the deficit five minutes later. This time Peter O’Mahony crashed over, however, after consulting Joy Neville the TMO, the score was chalked off due to O’Donoghue holding back Abraham Papali’i in the build-up.
Munster unloaded the cavalry off the bench in the second half with Tadhg Beirne, Murray, Carbery and Earls all entering the fray as the home side chased the game.
Healy did reduce the arrears with a penalty from near halfway on 51 minutes. Munster showed their pragmatic nature by opting to take the three points on offer from another penalty with ten minutes to go. Joey Carbery, fresh off the bench defied the tricky underfoot conditions to nail his kick from the ten-meter line.
Munster believed they had hit the front with ten minutes to go. A superb cross-field kick sent Andrew Conway scampering over in the corner. However, there was another TMO check on this score. Damien de Allende was shown to have knocked on in the build-up and once again the score was chalked off.
Munster pushed for the Connacht line with the last play of the game. Daniel Jones’ full-time whistle sounded after Stephen Archer knock-on. Connacht’s celebrations were cut short when a captain’s challenge was called by Peter O’Mahoney. This was quashed when a review showed the ball went forward off the back of Archer’s hand rather than a boot. With that, the final whistle sounded and Connacht had their first win over Munster in seven meetings and only their second of the professional era at Thomond.
Full-Time: Munster 20 Connacht 24
Munster: 15. Matt Gallagher; 14.Andrew Conway, 13.Dan Goggin, 12.Damian de Allende, 11.Shane Daly; 10.Ben Healy, 9.Craig Casey; 1.James Cronin, 2.Rhys Marshall, 3.John Ryan; 4.Jean Kleyn, 5.Billy Holland; 6.Jack O’Donoghue, 7.Peter O’Mahony (C), 8.CJ Stander.
Replacements: Niall Scannell (for Marshall 48’), Dave Kilcoyne (for Cronin 58’), Stephen Archer (for Ryan 58’), Tadhg Beirne (for Holland 52’), Fineen Wycherley (for Kleyn 78’), Conor Murray (for Casey HIA 13-27’& 52’), Joey Carbery (for Healy 62’), Keith Earls (for Gallagher 69’).
Connacht: 15. John Porch, 14. Sammy Arnold, 13. Sean O’Brien, 12. Tom Daly, 11. Alex Wootton, 10. Conor Fitzgerald, 9. Kieran Marmion, 1. Paddy McAllister, 2. Shane Delahunt, 3. Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 4. Niall Murray, 5. Ultan Dillane, 6. Cian Prendergast, 7. Conor Oliver, 8. Abraham Papali’i.
Replacements: 16. Dave Heffernan (for Delahunt 57’), 17. Denis Buckley (for McAllister 10-18 HIA &40’), 18. Finlay Bealham (for Robertson-McCoy 39’.), 19. Eoghan Masterson (for Papali’i 69’), 20. Sean Masterson (for Oliver 46’), 21. Caolin Blade (for Marmion 65’), 22. Jack Carty (for Fitzgerald 54’), 23. Peter Sullivan (for Arnold 69’).
Referee: Daniel Jones.