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Guinness Pro14, January 9th 2021.
Connacht 10 Munster 16
The Sportsground, Galway @ 7:35pm
A crisp clear day in Galway gave way to a light drizzle across the city as darkness fell. Whatever breeze there was favoured Munster for the first half. Both squads showed an impressive intensity in their pre-game warm-ups and this turned into pure ferocity as the game commenced.
Both sides showed impressive line-speed in defence, at times Munster were up suspiciously quickly. Munster’s work on the floor led to pressure relieving turn overs at crucial times. Tadhg Beirne was to the fore in this department. His man of the match award was more in recognition of the work he did over the ball rather than on it. However, the second row wasn’t alone in his work on the floor. Gavin Coombes won some crucial turnovers. CJ Stander won more again as Munster’s groundhog’s never let Connacht get clean quick ball.
A couple of strong early carries from Sam Arnold led to a Connacht penalty. The resulting line out was overthrown, but then snaffled up by Jack Carty and another penalty followed just to the left of the post less than thirty out. However, Carty pulled his kick and Connacht failed to take the three points on offer.
Munster won an early penalty in the scrum, Finlay Bealham adjudged to be the guilty party. Shortly after on ten minutes Shane Delahunt was sin-binned for collapsing the maul. JJ Hanrahan converted the resulting penalty. Munster turned the screw while a man up and from the line out they drove their maul forward. The ball was recycled twice before Chris Farrell ran in the try on 18mins. Hanrahan added the extras. By the time Shane Delahunt retuned Connacht had shipped ten points.
Connacht enjoyed some good territory during the next phase of the game. However, they were unable convert this into points. A knock-on at a crucial stage while deep in the Munster 22’ was the closest they came to the line in the first half. Just before the break Jack Carty made amends for his earlier miss from a similar position by stroking the penalty over.
Half-time: Connacht 3 Munster 10
JJ Hanrahan restored Munster’s ten point lead two minutes into the second half. Sweetly striking over a breakdown penalty. Connacht won a scrum penalty and threatened the Munster 22’ once more in the next phase of play. However, the outcome was similar to their first half efforts. Gavin Coombes this time winning a crucial turnover.
Hanrahan kept the scoreboard ticking over with another 3 points for the visitors on 63mins. This came when Connacht were penalised for not rolling away.
Connacht preserverd and pressed for a try as the clock ticked into the final ten minutes. They turned down a kickable penalty in favour of chasing seven points. However, Munster drove them back out of the 22’ in an impressive show of defensive strength.
At 3-16 behind entering the final three minutes it looked as if all Connacht’s efforts were in vain. Then Rory Scannell received a yellow on 78mins, shortly after coming on. Connacht made their numbers count with a try in the corner from Peter Sullivan in the next phase of play. When Carty converted superbly from the touchline Connacht were back within losing bonus territory.
Shortly after Munster were down to 13 men. Nick McCarthy joined Scannell in the bin as the clock entered the red. This time it was for cynically killing the ball as Connacht pressed for a winner. Connacht opted for the scrum and pressed for a winning try. However, Munster came up with another crucial turnover when it mattered most.
Full-time: Connacht 10 Munster 16
Munster stretch their lead at the top of Conference B to eleven points. Now with eight wins out of nine they lead the way on 37 points. Connacht (on 26 points) by dint of their losing bonus move two ahead of third place Scarlets (24) who lost 29-20 away to Cardiff (22, who close to within two of their Welsh rivals. The Blues have, however, played a game more than Scarlets and two more than Connacht.
Connacht: 15. John Porch, 14. Ben O’Donnell, 13. Sammy Arnold, 12. Tom Daly, 11. Alex Wootton, 10. Jack Carty, 9. Caolin Blade, 1. Denis Buckley, 2. Shane Delahunt, 3. Finlay Bealham, 4. Ultan Dillane, 5. Quinn Roux, 6. Sean O’Brien, 7. Conor Oliver, 8. Sean Masterson. Replacements: Dave Heffernan – temporary sub for Masterson 15mins, Matthew Burke, Dominic Robertson-McCoy – for Bealham 51′, Gavin Thornbury for Masterson 56′, Paul Boyle – for O’Brien (HIA) 42′, Kieran Marmion – for Blade 55′, Diarmuid Kilgallen, Peter Sullivan – for O’Donnell (HIA) 48′.
Munster: 15. Mike Haley, 14. Keith Earls, 13. Chris Farrell, 12. Damien de Allende, 11. Shane Daly, 10. JJ Hanrahan, 9. Conor Murray, 1. James Cronin, 2. Kevin O’Byrne, 3. Stephen Archer, 4. Jean Kleyn, 5. Tadhg Beirne, 6. Gavin Coombes, 7. Peter O’Mahony, 8. CJ Stander. Replacements: Niall Scannell for O’Byrne 53′, Josh Wycherley – for Cronin 59′, Keynan Knox – for Archer 53′, Fineen Wycherley – for Kleyn 15′ (HIA), Billy Holland – for Coombes 65′, Nick McCarthy for Murray 73′, Ben Healy for Hanrahan 63′, Rory Scannell – for Shane Daly 70′.