Munster 20-17 Connacht
Connacht fell to a narrow 20-17 defeat to Munster in a physically draining interprovincial encounter at Thomond Park.
The Westerners crossed the line twice, with Matt Healy and Paul Boyle touching down, with Jack Carty also adding seven points with the boot. But it was the hosts who edged the victory, thanks to a late Joey Carbery penalty, which added to two tries via James Cronin and Mike Haley,
Gavin Thornbury won a richly deserved man of the match award and the away team pushed the hosts -- who top the conference -- all the way with a physical performance, both on and off the ball.
Connacht started the game with intent and looked to pressure Munster on and off the ball.
Thornbury stole an early line out which allowed the away team to kick for territory. Inside the Munster 22, the lock then charged down an attempted clearance kick and gave the Westerners the chance to feed a five-metre scrum.
From the set-piece platform, the ball was worked to Carty who floated a beautiful pass into the path of Healy, and the winger, with trademark evasion, skipped the attention of a Munster defender to touch down. The Roscommon man then added the conversion to give Connacht an early 7-0 lead.
Munster pushed forward in order to bring themselves back into the game, but their attempts were met with stubborn green resistance, especially in the set-piece where Thornbury and Ultan Dillane, in particular, were proving strong. Paul Boyle and John Porch also provided key interventions in holding the home team up twice over the line.
Eventually, though, their pressure told and Cronin barged his way over from short range and Ben Healy added the extras to tie the teams up at 7-7.
It didn’t take Connacht long to wrestle back the lead, however, as Carty -- whose game management was generating attacking momentum for the visitors -- sweetly struck a penalty to give the visitors the 10-7 lead they held going into the interval.
The home team began the second half in a strong fashion and they leveled the score up only three minutes after the interval when Healy slotted a penalty.
A yellow card for Bundee Aki meant Connacht were reduced to 14 men, but, despite the deficit in men, they were defensively strong and didn’t concede in the period. Thornbury was effective in defence in both the line out -- where he stole Munster throws -- and at the breakdown where he won two penalties.
With the Westerners so strong in defence, it would take something special to prize them open and that’s exactly what Haley provided when he brilliantly collected his own chip kick and touched down for a try that Joey Carbery converted to give the hosts a 17-10 lead.
Connacht dusted themselves down and went on the offensive, with Carty orchestrating their attack with authority. The Roscommon man’s grubber kick through found Healy, whose acceleration brought him through a gap and deep into the hosts territory.
More carries, from Carty and Caolin Blade, established field position in the Munster 22 and the hosts infringed when slowing down Connacht ball. Chris Cloete was sin-binned and the Westerners opted to take a scrum.
Building phases close to the line, the ball was worked to the right-hand side where Boyle noticed a slight gap and powered through it to touch down. Carty made no mistake with the conversion and the away team leveled the game once again at 17-17.
Connacht pushed and probed for the game-winning score, but it was Munster -- with a Carbery penalty -- who took the spoils late on and edged an extremely physical encounter.
15: Tiernan O’Halloran
14: John Porch
13: Tom Daly
12: Bundee Aki
11: Matt Healy
10: Jack Carty
9: Caolin Blade
8: Paul Boyle
7: Conor Oliver
6: Jarrad Butler ©
5: Gavin Thornbury
4: Ultan Dillane
3: Finlay Bealham
2: Dave Heffernan
1: Denis Buckley
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Matthew Burke, Jack Aungier, Niall Murray, Eoghan Masterson, Kieran Marmion, Sean O’Brien, Alex Wootton.