It was a disappointing day for Connacht Rugby who travelled to Thomond Park where they were defeated 42 – 20 by a strong Munster outfit.

The late withdrawal of centre Craig Ronaldson due to illness meant that 22-year-old Conor Finn came in for his first PRO12 start with midfielders Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki and Dave McSharry all unavailable.

Pat Lam’s men were only 7 – 3 down at half time and although the visitors were always chasing the game, two tries scored in the second half by Miah Nikora and Shane O’Leary kept the score line close. But 21 points scored by Munster in the final eight minutes of the game left it out of reach.

Anthony Foley’s Munster got back to winning ways and took a bonus point in the process through tries from Billy Holland, Duncan Casey, Simon Zebo, Andrew Smith, Denis Hurley, and Keith Earls. Ireland international outhalf Ian Keatley kicked three conversions with replacement JJ Hanrahan kicking the same amount.

Connacht outhalf Jack Carty got the team off to a best possible start with an on-target penalty kick for a three point advantage within the first minute.

But ten minutes later, Munster took the lead when second row Holland picked up a loose ball from the Munster scrum to dive over for the opening try which Keatley converted.

Connacht’s two visits to the hosts’ 22 in the opening 20 minutes yielded no return as Munster’s defence proved resilient. And the home pack were able to stop the momentum of Connacht’s driving maul and turn over the ball to fashion an escape from the 22 once again.

Carty attempted a penalty from the half way line in an attempt to close the gap just before the break and while his long-range kick had the distance, it was just shy of the mark.

Half time: Munster 7 – 3 Connacht

Connacht came out strong in the second half and on turning over a Munster scrum in their 22, Carty made no mistake on the resultant penalty to bring it to a one-point game after 45 minutes.

Munster came straight back, forcing a penalty at ruck time but Keatley’s effort from the 10 metre line sailed wide.

Despite the difficult conditions, both sides continued to try to move the ball and probe for opportunities.

It was Munster who got the next score when, after 54 minutes, replacement hooker Casey crashed over from a powerful maul. Keatley was on target this time with the conversion kick and the men in red lead 14 – 6.

Munster were penalised on the hour mark but Carty’s attempt to find touch was kicked passed the goal line in what seemed like a turning point in the game. Winning a penalty from the resulting Munster scrum back on half way, the hosts set up a platform in the 22. The ball was spread out to international winger Zebo who slid over in the corner – Keatley converting for 21 – 6.

Five minutes later, Connacht responded as replacement outhalf Nikora made the most of a popped up ball to break and charge through unopposed to touch down. The New Zealander, who was a late addition to the match day squad, converted his own try from the touch line to leave it 21 – 13 with ten minutes remaining.

But the chance of a comeback or even a losing bonus point vanished when centre Smith peeled off the back of a powerful maul to score under the posts and earn his side a valuable bonus point with the fourth try scored. JJ Hanrahan added the extras and was up to the tee again just two minutes later when his team mate Hurley ran on to an opportunist pass from Earls to score under the posts and pull away from Connacht.

 

Shane O’Leary got one back for Connacht after 78 minutes but Munster weren’t finished and Earls dotted down with seconds remaining to seal an emphatic win.

Munster: Felix Jones, Keith Earls, Andrew Smith, Denis Hurley (captain), Simon Zebo, Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams
John Ryan, Eusebio Guinazu, Stephen Archer; Donncha O’Callaghan, Billy Holland, Dave O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander.

Replacements: Duncan Casey, Dave Kilcoyne, BJ Botha, Paddy Butler, Jack O’Donoghue, Neil Cronin, JJ Hanrahan, Ronan O’Mahony.

Connacht: T O’Halloran, D Leader, D Poolman, C Finn, M Healy, J Carty, K Marmion
D Buckley, T McCartney, R Ah You, M Kearney, A Muldowney, J Muldoon (captain), E Masterson, G Naoupu

Replacements: S Delahunt (75” for McCartney), R Loughney, (64” for Buckley), F Bealham (64” for Ah You), Q Roux (57” for Kearney), E McKeon (52”  for Naoupu, off 54” – concussion), J Cooney (57” for Marmion), S O’Leary (67” for Finn), M Nikora (64” for Carty)

Attendance: 18, 762

Man of the Match: CJ Stander

 

 

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