By John O'Sullivan
Connacht started 2022 with a 10-8 victory over Munster at the Sportsground in the United Rugby Championship on New Years Day.
A penalty from Jack Carty and a try from Bundee Aki — which was converted by replacement Conor Fitzgerald – was enough to give the Westerners the win in front of a vocal home crowd.
Munster, meanwhile, registered their scores through an Andrew Conway try and a Ben Healy penalty, but it was the Westerners – in a performance of defensive steel and attacking efficiency – who deservedly notched the victory, despite spending part of the game down to thirteen men.
Connacht were the aggressors early on and they looked to attack at every opening. Munster, however, were dogged in defence and it took fifteen minutes for the Westerners’ pressure to yield a score when Carty – from just inside his own half – expertly slotted a penalty to open the scoring at 3-0 to the hosts.
The visitors responded in kind not long after, though, when Ben Healy split the posts with a long-range kick to tie the scores up at 3-3 as the game approached the 20-minute mark.
The away team were enjoying a purple patch and they made it two quick-fire scores when Andrew Conway was the benefactor of a charge down and pounced on the ball in the in-goal area to touch down for a try that gave Munster the lead for the first time at 8-3.
Munster threw the kitchen sink at Connacht in an attempt to score their second try close to half time, but even when the Westerners were reduced to fourteen – with Oisin Dowling receiving a yellow card – the away team, who had an innumerable amount of pick and go attempts close to the line, could not break the green resistance, with Conor Oliver – among others – particularly impressive.
Connacht’s heroic goal-line defence saw them win a breakdown penalty and the halftime whistle sounded with Munster leading 8-3.
A coming together of the two sides before halftime saw both teams – with Healy and Shane Delahunt carded for their respective teams – pick up yellow cards as the second half started meaning Connacht were temporarily down to 13 men.
Both teams were restored to their full allocation when Dowling and Delahunt came back on for Connacht and Healy for Munster, but the away side soon found themselves back down to fourteen when Chris Farrell was reprimanded for a late and high tackle.
With the man advantage, the hosts immediately punished the visitors. From the subsequent penalty, Connacht went to the line and they launched a powerful rolling maul that Aki touched down at the tail of for a try. Fitzgerald slotted the extras and the home team lead 10-8 just shy of the hour mark.
The Westerners kept probing for another try in the final twenty minutes, but Munster proved stubborn in defence. It didn’t prove costly, however, as the Westerners controlled the ball – with Kiernan Marmion and Fitzgerald dictating the tempo – for the closing stages before the final whistle blew to rapturous scenes at the Sportsground.
15: Tiernan O’Halloran
14: John Porch
13: Sammy Arnold
12: Bundee Aki
11: Mack Hansen
10: Jack Carty
9: Kieran Marmion
8: Jarrad Butler
7: Conor Oliver
6: Cian Prendergast
5: Oisin Dowling
4: Ultan Dillane
3: Finlay Bealham
2: Shane Delahunt
1: Matthew Burke
16: Jonny Murphy for Shane Delahunt
17: Tietie Tuimauga for Matthew Burke
18: Dominic Robertson McCoy for Finlay Bealham
19: Eoghan Masterson for Ultan Dillane
20: Abraham Papali’i for Cian Prendergast
21: Matthew Devine
22: Conor Fitzgerald for Jack Carty
23: Tom Farrell for John Porch