Connacht suffered a home defeat tonight at the hands of Heineken Cup semi-finalists Munster who now move into second place in the RaboDirect PRO12.

It was a fast paced and fiercely contested game that saw Connacht cross for three tries but it wasn’t enough against a tough Munster side who wrapped up the four-try bonus point just eight minutes from time.

At a balmy Sportsground it was 15 minutes of deadlock until Connacht took the lead with a penalty kicked by Miah Nikora, after Munster were penalised for straying offside.

With an attacking scrum in the hosts’ 22, Munster stormed back with their first try of the game through winger Andrew Conway. Former Connacht flyhalf Ian Keatley slotted the conversion for the reds.

Two minutes later, Connacht took the lead again and like their oppositions’ score, it came from an attacking scrum where Connacht worked towards the 22 zone. The move ended with a perfectly timed pass from fullback Darragh Leader off his outside shoulder to find Matt Healy on the wing, the 25-year-old celebrating his 4th try in this season’s competition. Nikora’s touchline conversion attempt drifted wide to the right of the posts to leave the score at 8 – 7 after 20 minutes.

The lead did not last long, however, as Munster stepped into gear and made the most of Connacht’s errors on the ball.

Within four minutes, Keatley kicked two penalties, Connacht first penalised for being offside and then again at the scrum.

Connacht showed some exciting attacking play on the half way line but the Munster defence held strong. Nikora kicked to the corner for winger Danie Poolman to collect but the South African had a foot in touch before he could get over the line.

Minutes later, Gerhard van den Heever intercepted a Connacht pass on half-way and ran in untouched to score behind the posts with Keatley adding the conversion.

Connacht gifted Munster another soft try when a dropped ball allowed scrum half Duncan Williams put in a superb chip and chase. He then cleared the way for fullback Denis Hurley to run in his side’s third try of the opening half. From the kicking tee, Keatley made it five from five before the break.

Half time score: Connacht 8 – 27 Munster

Tough words at half time saw Connacht come out blazing after the break, a try from Number 8 Eoin McKeon on 53 minutes reducing the gap. Attacking the Munster line, Nikora opened up the space, switching play out the left to replacement flanker Conor Gilsenan. On his first PRO12 appearance, Gilsenan shot the ball out to McKeon who dived over in the corner. Nikora missed the conversion but slotted a penalty ten minutes later to close the gap to 16 – 27.

But Munster, determined to secure a fourth and vital try, set up camp on the Connacht line and despite outstanding character from the Connacht defence, the red jerseys eventually got over on 72 minutes with Number 8 Paddy Butler getting the credit. Keatley missed his only shot at goal with the conversion attempt.

Connacht’s never-say-die attitude was rewarded at the bitter end when Poolman intercepted a Munster pass and ran in for a try of his own under the sticks, which replacement outhalf Dan Parks quickly converted.

A fourth try for Pat Lam’s men would have brought with it two Pro12 points but time was not on Connacht’s side.

Full time score: Connacht 23 – 32 Munster

CONNACHT: D Leader; D Poolman, R Henshaw, E Griffin, M Healy; M Nikora, K Marmion; R Loughney, J Harris-Wright, R Ah You M Kearney, A Browne; J Muldoon, W Faloon, E McKeon.

Replacements: C Gilsenan for Faloon (49 mins), D McSharry for D Leader (52 mins), A Muldowney for McKeon (55 mins), D Buckley for Loughney (58 mins), D Parks for Nikora (70 mins), J Dineen for Harris-Wright, F Bealham for Ah You (both 74 mins), F Murphy for Marmion (76 mins).

MUNSTER: D Hurley; G van den Heever, J Murphy, J Downey, A Conway; I Keatley, D Williams; D Kilcoyne, D Varley, D Ryan; Donncha O’Callaghan, P O’Connell; CJ Stander, S Dougall, P Butler.

Replacements: T O’Donnell for Dougall (60 mins), Q MacDonald for Varley (70 mins), R O’Mahony for Hurley, Murray for Keatley, G Hurley for Williams, , B Holland for O’Connell (all 74 mins), A Cotter for Kilcoyne (76 mins). Not used: BJ Botha.

Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)

Attendance: 6, 227 (full capacity)

Man of the Match: Paddy Butler, Munster Rugby

 

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