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Jack Carty, David Hawkshaw and Conor Fitzgerald are all in Connacht starting team to play Munster. Here are my thoughts on why the men in green could beat Munster
Provincial rivals Munster travel to the Sportsgrounds Friday and both teams are searching for form that has so far escaped them. It will be Connacht’s first appearance of the season in front of their fans and with a new 4G pitch to boot, they will be looking to impress.
The mood in the Connacht camp remains high despite the first three performances. Finlay Bealham on media duty this week exclaimed the players are buzzing to get on the pitch Friday and put in a big performance. Andy Friend assured everybody that Connacht are close to where they want to be.
Munster got their first win of the season last weekend at home to Zebre winning twenty-one points to five.
In what seems to be a transition period for the club with head coach Graham Rowntree still getting to grips with his team. They struggled to create attacking opportunities, most noticeably in that second half. What continues to be a strength is their set piece.
Munster have made more line-out steals than any other team so far this season, stealing eight so far.
They also remain physical with ball in hand making more contact metres than any other side with 296 metres.
Connacht will have to remain disciplined as Munster remain 100% from the kicking tee so far so any mistake will likely be punished for three points.
Munster’s away form has been much poorer than one would expect. Only one win away from home in all competitions since January is bleak reading.
What will give them hope is that in the previous ten meetings of these teams, Munster have won eight of those matches so the expectation will be a win.
The variability of the 4G pitch is an interesting one. It’s a home game for Connacht but it is their first time playing a game on this surface since last seasons round 13 game away to Edinburgh.
A game Connacht fans will have tried to forget as it was a forty-eight-point drubbing. However, Munster played on this surface last weekend at Musgrave Park. Something to keep an eye out for in terms of getting out of the blocks on Friday.
Connacht – The worries
A big worry for Connacht will be discipline having conceded forty-four penalties in three games.
An enormous average of over fourteen a game could lead to a long night for Connacht fans if that trend continues.
Connacht won this fixture last season which will give them confidence, but they have not beaten Munster in consecutive games since 2016 so history is not on their side.
The attack has looked far from cohesive so far this season and with a physical in your face defensive style that Munster play, I fear Connacht will try and force things to happen which can easily lead to handling errors or misplaced passes like we saw last weekend.
Munster are kings of the dark arts and I say that as a compliment. They will want to drag Connacht into a slugfest. Connacht need to keep their heads about them and not get involved as it will lead to bad decisions and straying away from the game plan.
My thoughts why Connacht can win against Munster
My confidence is strangely high going into Friday night. Connacht will be well up for this with it being their first game at home on a new pitch. They love playing in front of a home crowd and effort levels will be through the roof.
Captain Jack Carty is back, and his calming presence will be a huge asset for Friday.
My only hope is that he is 100% healthy and ready to go. A new centre partnership of Hawkshaw and Byron Ralston is exciting but inexperienced. Hawkshaw is no stranger to 12 so let’s hope he strikes up an instant connection with his new partner.
“We won’t hide from the fact our performances and results haven’t been good enough. We’ve been guilty of too many unforced errors, and at this level you’re going to be punished. As is always the case against Munster, the team who brings the greater level of physicality, linked with superior discipline and minimal error count is that team that usually comes out on top, so those three things are a key focus for us this week.
My big question is why management have moved away from playing John porch at full-back, two seasons ago he was arguably the best full-back in the league, yet he has not played there since early last season if I am not mistaken. All a hugely talented and exciting back line none the less.
There is no fear of Munster from the Connacht players.
They should have won both games last year if not for a refereeing blooper in Thomond. This new pitch should lead to a fast style of play that caused Munster real problems in Limerick last season which in return should create a lot of attacking opportunities for Connacht to build upon.
A big weakness the past two seasons for Connacht has been the line-out and scrum, two areas of strength for Munster. However, this season in the opening three games we have seen a much-improved set piece from Connacht. Both scrum and maul held up well against two physical South African sides. Both will be well tested against Munster but if both hold up it will be a real sign of positive change.
Lastly these players are professional athletes, they pride themselves on performing at the top of their game, they don’t want to lose any game never mind a game at home in front of family and friends and continue an awful start to a season. Having to face the same questions they have faced the past 3 weekends will be all the motivation needed to deliver a big performance Friday.
Win, lose or draw I am very confident we will see a much-improved Connacht on Friday.
15. Conor Fitzgerald (55)
14. John Porch (62)
13. Byron Ralston (3)
12. David Hawkshaw (3)
11. Mack Hansen (16)
10. Jack Carty (180) (C)
9. Kieran Marmion (212)
1. Denis Buckley (211)
2. Dave Heffernan (168)
3. Finlay Bealham (176)
4. Gavin Thornbury (65)
5. Oisín Dowling (27)
6. Shamus Hurley-Langton (3)
7. Conor Oliver (43)
8. Jarrad Butler (97)
16. Grant Stewart (1)
17. Peter Dooley (3)
18. Jack Aungier (34)
19. Niall Murray (37)
20. Josh Murphy (3)
21. Colm Reilly (10)
22. Tom Daly (63)
23. Paul Boyle (75)
Munster: Joey Carbery; Conor Phillips, Malakai Fekitoa, Dan Goggin, Patrick Campbell; Ben Healy, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, Keynan Knox; Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne; Jack O’Donoghue, Peter O’Mahony (C), Gavin Coombes.
Replacements: Scott Buckley, Jeremy Loughman, Stephen Archer, Edwin Edogbo, Jack O’Sullivan, Craig Casey, Rory Scannell, Fionn Gibbons.