The last round of regular season games also saw the last in the Interpro series of games as Ulster hosted Leinster and Munster hosted Connacht. However, the usual intensity of these clashes was missing due to both games being dead rubbers. Leinster were already assured of top spot in Conference B, while Ulster has second spot wrapped up. Treviso’s bonus point win over Zebre meant that Edinburgh couldn’t catch the Italians for the third spot and the final quarter-final place. It also had the knock-on effect of reducing the possibility of Edinburgh doing Munster a favour by beating Glasgow and thereby opening up the possibility of the Munster men securing a route straight to the semi-final.
Ulster 14 Leinster 13
The lack of importance riding on the outcome of this fixture was reflected by the team selections of both Dan McFarland and Leo Cullen. These sides last met in the Champions Cup quarter-final at the Aviva on the 30th March and the line-up’s for the respective sides pre-game showed that both teams have one eye of future battles over the coming weeks. Dave Kearney was the only Leinster player retained from that game and for Ulster the duo of Darren Cave & Michael Lowry featured in both fixtures.
It was the Ulstermen who edged a tight game by a single point. The game was slow to get going and it took half an hour to see the games first score, but like buses, two tries then came within two minutes. Jimmy O’Brien crossed the white wash for Leinster on 30mins, and two minutes later David Shanahan did likewise at the other end. Just before half-time Leinster regained the lead as Fergus McFadden scored in the corner. But a converted debut day try from substitute Marcus Rea, while Leinster had a man in the bin, proved to be the only score of the second half.
Munster 27 Connacht 14
Munster proved too strong for a much changed Connacht side from the team that wrapped up third place with a win over Cardiff last time out. Johann van Graan was forced into a late change as Conor Murray took a blow to the neck in the pre-game warm-up, Neil Cronin started and young Craig Casey who stared for the Irish under 20’s was given a late debut off the bench.
Results elswhere meant that Munster’s fate was out of their control as Glasgow eased to a 34-10 win over Edinburgh to seal top spot in Conference A.
This game will be rememberd more for a try that wasn’t scored rather than any of those that were. Shortly after Finlay Bealham had crashed over to put Connacht ahead with the games first try, Tiernan O’Halloran has a pass picked off by Andrew Conway on the Connacht 22. As Conway sauntered over the try line, he slowed to trotting pace as he attempted to make the conversion easier by dotting the ball down under the posts. However, Stephen Fitzgerald hadn’t given up the chase and got back to knock the ball out of Conway’s hands.
In fairness to Conway, he put the error behind him played a crucial role in Mike Haley’s try later in the half. Before Haley’s score Tadhg Beirne got Munster’s first of three tries on the night as a short pass from Neil Cronin off the base of the ruck put him through a large gap and he raced in from outside the 22. Connacht captain Jarrad Butler appealed to referee Frank Murphy to check for what appered to be obvious obstrucion from Jean Kleyn on Robin Copleland in the build-up to that score, however, the try was awarded without recouse to the TMO. Tyler Bleydaal added both conversions to an earleir penalty to give the home side a 17-7 lead at the break. That margin could have been tighter if Connacht’s debutant no.10 Conor Dean had been sucessful with either of his two kickable penalty attempts.
Connacht enjoyed more of the ball in the second half and got their reward after Jeremy Loughman was sent to the bin for repeated scrum infringments. from the next play Eoin McKeon barrled over. The conversion from Dean reduced Munster’s lead to a single score. However this apeared to galvinise 14 man Munster as they then began to dictate the play. A try from J.J. Hanrahan on 74mins ensured the win for the home side and they now look forward to hosting Treviso in Thomond at 3pm next Saturday in the quarter-final. Connacht travel to Ravenhill to face Ulster in the other game on Saturday at 5:35pm.