Connacht 10-16 Munster
By John O'Sullivan
Despite almost completing a sensational late turnaround, Connacht fell to a narrow, 10-16, defeat to Munster at the Sportsground in a keenly-contested Guinness PRO14 interprovincial clash.
A Peter Sullivan try and a penalty and a conversion from Jack Carty accounted for the hosts' points after a strong team performance, in both attack and defence.
But Munster -- who registered their sixteen points via a Chris Farrell try and eleven points from the boot of J.J. Hanrahan -- held on and sealed their victory after weathering a late Connacht storm in their 22 while being down to 13 men.
The visitors, who started the game one place ahead of the Westerners in Conference A of the PRO14, started well and they had their first points when Hanrahan made no mistake in slotting a penalty from just outside the hosts 22. The home team, meanwhile, played with 14 men in the opening period after Shane Delahunt was yellow carded.
Connacht reacted well to the concession of the first score and went in search of scores of their own. Munster, though, were solid in defence -- especially at the breakdown, where Tadgh Beirne was prominent -- and weathered the home teams' early attacks.
At the other end, the Southerners took advantage of their opportunities and they scored the first try of the evening when Farrell crashed over from close range after a line out gave Munster territory in Connacht's 22. Hanrahan made no mistakes from the tee and the hosts found themselves 10-0 down.
An extremely physical encounter was mostly played between both teams' 22's and Connacht were giving as good as they got on and off the ball, with Sean Masterson, Tom Daly, and Sean O'Brien all making big hits and denting carries.
The home team's scrum was functioning well and it was via that avenue that Connacht registered their first points of the night. A strong collective push from the pack yielded a scrum penalty and Carty -- in the last action of the half -- was composed from the kicking tee and the Westerners went into the break trailing 3-10.
Munster started the second period in a strong fashion and they stretched their lead even further when Hanrahan successfully kicked his second penalty of the evening.
The Connacht scrum -- where Denis Buckley, Finlay Bealham, and Shane Delahunt were impressive -- was a source of penalties for the home team. But Munster's well-orchestrated defence kept the hosts' attack at bay with the Westerners pushing hard for a try of their own.
Against the run of territory and possession, Munster stretched their lead further when Hanrahan continued his 100% kicking rate for the evening with another successfully struck penalty.
With 20 minutes remaining, the hosts kept their intensity high and continued to probe. Enjoying the lion's share of territory and possession, the pressure eventually told.
Munster were reduced to 14 men when Rory Scannell was yellow carded with Connacht -- with Sammy Arnold and Tom Daly regular and effective ball carriers -- upping the ante. With a man advantage, the hosts spun the ball wide in the visitors 22, and John Porch's pass fed Sullivan to dive in. Carty, despite the difficulty of the angle of the conversion, slotted the extras to set up a tense finale.
The visitors' task was made even harder when substitute Nick McCarthy was yellow-carded, but Munster withstood Connacht's late pressure and forced a knock-on to end the game.
15: John Porch
14: Ben O'Donnell
13: Sammy Arnold
12: Tom Daly
11: Alex Wootton
10: Jack Carty
9: Caolin Blade
8: Sean Masterson
7: Conor Oliver
6: Sean O'Brien
5: Quinn Roux(C)
4: Ultan Dillane.
3: Finlay Bealham
2: Shane Delahunt
1: Denis Buckley
Replacements: Matthew Burke for Buckley, Dave Heffernan for Delahunt, Dominic Robertson McCoy, Gavin Thornbury for Masterson, Kieran Marmion for Blade, Sullivan for O'Donnell.