Junior Interprovincial Rugby

   Connacht    26        Munster    9
Connacht made history at the Sportsground on Saturday when they clinched the province’s first ever Junior Interprovincial title by beating Munster 26 – 9. Victories away last week to Leinster and at home the previous week against Ulster, set up the home side to deliver on Saturday, and deliver they duly did with some style.
Having won the toss, Connacht captain Kevin Higgins elected to play into a very stiff breeze in the first half. This proved to be a masterstroke as Munster failed to take advantage of the elements by focusing on mauling and rucking rather than tactically kicking to the corners and putting their opponents on the back foot.
3 minutes into the game Munster full back Dara O’Brien opened the scoring with an easy penalty from 25 metres out.  Connacht defended strongly for the next ten minutes and eventually made there way into the Munster half. Following a lineout on the Munster 10 metre line a break started by Connacht out half Paddy Pearson was continued by Kevin Higgins and Rory O’Connor, and when Munster conceded a penalty it was quickly taken by flanker Mike Ward who sent Higgins over in the corner. Pearson missed the difficult conversion into the wind but Connacht were now 5 – 3 ahead.
Munster attacked strongly on their next attack and were rewarded when Connacht were punished with yet another penalty close to their posts. Munster’s O’Brien once again split the posts and this left the score at 6 -5. Munster made little use of the wind as they naively concentrated on taking on the Connacht pack with a rucking and mauling game.
Connacht defended stoutly and Martin Lee, with a turnover, and Aaron Spring with some strong tackling kept Munster at bay until the 28 minute when O’Brien stretched Munster’s lead to 9 – 5 with a further penalty. Just before half time Munster referee, Dave O’Shea, sin binned Munster hooker Alan O’Donnell after several warnings.
With no further scoring to half time Connacht turned 9 – 5 down and with the strong breeze at their backs for the second half they were at short odds to win the match.
It was Munster however who started the strongest with an excellent break from second row Paul Memory, but the Connacht defence held.
On five minutes Connacht’s Paddy Pearson pined Munster back in their own half, and forced a lineout in Connacht’s favour. A quick lineout and fast hands from the half backs led to a midfield break by centre Mata Fafita and he rounded Munster full back O’Brien to touch down for a crucial strike for Connacht. Pearson just missed the conversion but Connacht were now in the driving seat and Pearson continuously made great use of the wind with his tactical kicking and had Munster retreating on many occasions. On the odd occasion that Munster did get into the Connacht half they made too many unforced errors at crucial times.
Connacht loosehead prop, Wesley Maxwell, had to retire injured on the 48th minute, to be replaced by the rock solid Doran McHugh.  An infringement in the ruck by Munster led to a Connacht penalty in front of the posts which Pearson converted to leave the score at 13 – 9.
On 55 minutes the deciding score happened when Eoin Rooney and Doran McHugh took the ball forward and from the ensuing ruck scrumhalf Mickey Murphy put winger Aaron Spring through for a try with an inside move that caught out the Munster defence. Pearson converted to leave the score at 20 – 9.
Even with 25 minutes left Connacht were looking good as Munster were ineffective in making ground against the stiff breeze. Connacht introduced second row Dave Hansberry for Jamie Bowes on 55 minutes and Munster substituted both their props.
With 15 minutes left on the clock Pearson rapped the game up for Connacht when he slotted a penalty after Munster were punished for a scrum infringement.
Connacht emptied their bench with ten minutes left and introduced Ronan Coughlan, Brian Murphy, Tom Ellard, Ger O’Connor and John Culkin for Tom Toolan, Willie Parker, Mickey Murphy, Paddy Pearson and Dave Prior who all contributed greatly to the famous victory.
 Replacement outhalf O’Connor kicked a late penalty in front of the posts to leave the final score at 26 -9 in favour of the home side and the final whistle saw great scenes of celebration as Connacht sealed their first championship win in more than 50 years of the competition.
In addition to those mentioned flanker Mike Ward, no. 8 Aidan McNulty, winger Rory O’Connor and fullback captain Kevin Higgins all had excellent games in a Connacht side where everyone was a star.         

Connacht:     Kevin Higgins (Monivea) (Capt.), Rory O’Connor (Monivea), Dave Prior (Monivea), Mata Fafita (Sligo), Aaron Spring (Sligo), Paddy Pearson (Sligo), Mickey Murphy (Ballina), Wesley Maxwell (Sligo),Martin Lee (Corrib), Tom Toolan (Ballina), Jamie Bowes (Sligo) , Willie Parker (Monivea), Eoin Rooney (Monivea), Mike Ward (Tuam), Aidan McNulty (Ballina)
Subs    Doran McHugh (OLBC), Ronan Coughlan (Monivea), Brian Murphy (Monivea), Dave Hansberry (OLBC), Tom Ellard (Westport), John Culkin (Monivea) Ger O’Connor (Monivea).

All pics (C) www.sportingoccasions.ie – Johnathan Curran

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Connacht Aaron Spring on the burst

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Captain Kevin Higgins with the covetted Inter-Pro Trophy

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Mata Fafita after scoring for Connacht

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The victorious Connacht Juniors

                  P    W    L    D    P+    P-    Diff    TF    TA    Diff    BP    PTS
                                               
Connacht    3    3    0    0    82    35    47    11    4    7    1    13
Leinster      3    2    1    0    65    47    18     9     6    3    2    10
Ulster         3    1    2    0    41    81   -40    6    11    -5    1    5
Munster      3    0    3    0    57    82   -25    6    11    -5    2    2

2010/11 Results

Conn    36    Ulst    12
Lein      30    Mun    24
Lein      14    Conn  20
Ulst      26    Mun    24
Conn    26    Mun    9
Lein      21    Ulst    3


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