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In a game dominated by ill discipline, yellow and red cards, Munster Rugby defeated their provincial rivals to advance to next weekend’s Guinness Pro14 semi-final against Leinster Rugby.
Munster came into this afternoon’s game knowing that two points from the fixture would secure a place for them in next weekend’s Guinness Pro14 semi-final at the Aviva Stadium, and they made the breakthrough as early as the eighth minute.
Shortly after former Munster player Conor Oliver was yellow carded for continuous Connacht fouling, Chris Cloete crashed over to give the designated ‘home’ side a try.
From a lineout, Peter O’Mahony claimed the ball for the men in red who drove with power to their opposition’s line, allowing South African Cloete achieve his 6th try in Munster colours. A straightforward conversion for JJ Hanrahan saw the Kerryman put his side into a 7-0 lead after 10 minutes of the game.
With Munster in the ascendancy, the Connachtmen didn’t help themselves with a succession of penalty concessions. While the westerners had Oliver in the bin, referee Frank Murphy warned Connacht captain Quinn Roux that another penalty concession within the following five minutes would see another of their players yellow carded, after Sammy Arnold was caught on the wrong side of the ruck.
Munster soon had a scrum in front of the posts and with Connacht a man down, Munster drove putting Andy Friend’s team in trouble and their scrum buckled under pressure. Murphy immediately ran under the posts to award a penalty try, putting Munster 14-0 ahead.
Abraham Papali’i, on his Connacht debut, was the dominant player in the green shirt until a dangerous tackle on Conor Murray. When the No. 8’s elbow made contact with Murray’s head in the 25th minute, the New Zealander received a straight red card from the referee.
With Munster having 62% possession and 63% territory in the opening half hour, Connacht were starved of the ball, and with the side down in personnel, they struggled to make progress out of their own half for much of the early period.
Just 5 minutes to the interval, Connacht saw another red card. Shane Delahunt led with the arm into CJ Stander’s neck, leaving the officials with no option, other than to show a second red card in the game.
Down to thirteen men on the field, Connacht very quickly saw themselves further down on the scoreboard as front row Jeremy Loughman burrowed his way over to touch down for 19-0. Another easy conversion for JJ Hanrahan gave Munster a 21-0 advantage.
In the dying minutes of the first half, Munster had two players yellow carded for continuous fouling, as first Peter O’Mahony and then Tadhg Beirne, were sent to the sin bin. Connacht, finally with numerical equality on the field of play, made it count when replacement Bundee Aki beat the red defence for his side’s first score. Conor Fitzgerald added the extras to reduce his side’s deficit at the break.
Half-time: Munster Rugby 21 Connacht Rugby 7.
In a fruitful early 15 minutes after the restart, Munster turned the screw on Andy Friend’s side, as the southern province achieved three converted tries.
Murray floated a lovely ball out to Tadhg Beirne who came onto it with pace. The Wexford native burst through the Connacht defence as he scored his side’s fourth five-pointer of the afternoon. Minutes later, it was another five pointer, as Johann Van Graan’s men burst from their own half. With Beirne again involved, as well as new centre signing de Allende, speedy winger Andrew Conway finally took possession to score. Shortly afterwards, JJ Hanrahan drilled the ball down the touchline and the ever alert Conway showed his pace to gain possession and touch down in the corner, despite the best defending efforts of Colm de Buitléar.
Replacement James Cronin got in on the try-scoring when a Munster drive set him up for a score, before Rory Scannell added the extras for 49-7.
Jonny Murphy went over in the corner, after some good link-up play, to get a late consolation score for Connacht, but with the conversion attempt which followed missed, the game ended with a comprehensive 49-12 victory for Johann van Graan’s side.
Final score: Munster Rugby 49 Connacht Rugby 12.
Munster will play Leinster on Friday night (7.35pm) in the first semi-final of a changed Guinness Pro14 competition at the Aviva Stadium.
Ulster will travel to Edinburgh for the second semi-final on Saturday, with the final taking place on Saturday, 12th September.
15. Shane Daly, 14. Andrew Conway, 13. Chris Farrell, 12. Damian de Allende, 11. Keith Earls,10. JJ Hanrahan, 9. Conor Murray.
1. Jeremy Loughman, 2. Niall Scannell, 3. John Ryan, 4. Fineen Wycherley, 5. Tadhg Beirne, 6. Peter O’Mahony (captain), 7. Chris Cloete, 8. CJ Stander.
Munster Rugby Replacements:
16. Kevin O’Byrne, 17. Liam O’Connor, 18. Stephen Archer, 19. Billy Holland, 20. Jack O’Donoghue, 21. Craig Casey, 22. Rory Scannell, 23. Jack O’Sullivan.
15. Tiernan O’Halloran, 14. Colm de Buitléar, 13. Sammy Arnold, 12. Tom Daly, 11. Matt Healy,10. Conor Fitzgerald, 9. Caolin Blade.
1. Paddy McAllister, 2. Shane Delahunt, 3. Dominic Robertson-McCoy,4. Niall Murray, 5. Quinn Roux (captain),6. Eoghan Masterson, 7. Conor Oliver, 8. Abraham Papali’i.
Connacht Rugby Replacements:
16. Jonny Murphy, 17. Conor Kenny, 18. Matthew Burke, 19. Ultan Dillane, 20. Seán Masterson, 21. Stephen Kerins, 22. Peter Robb, 23. Conor Dean.