The Connacht Eagles were narrowly defeated by their Munster counterparts in a keenly contested interprovincial clash at the Sportsground today.
Tries from Conor Oliver, Diarmuid Kilgannen and Jack Aungier saw the hosts establish a lead with a quarter of the game remaining, but a late Diarmuid Barron try saw the visitors claim the win in the first professional game to take place outside of Dublin in six months.
There was no signs of rust from either side -- despite the lack of game time -- in the early proceedings and it was Connacht who struck first blood in the glorious Galway sunshine.
Captain Oliver, against his former club, was the beneficiary of a move started by Jonny Murphy. The hooker made big head way into Munster territory with a hard carry and, after a few phases, Kilgannen spun the ball to the openside to dive over.
The conversion was wide, but the hosts were worthy of their lead.
Munster weren’t long in responding, however, and fly-half Ben Healy ran in for a brilliant solo try which he converted himself to give the visitors a 7-5 lead.
With the winds in their sails, the Southerners extended their lead further when Barron -- the former Irish U20’s hooker -- picked from the base of a powerful rolling maul to touch down. Healy converted with aplomb to stretch Munster’s lead even further to 14-5.
The first half was proving to be a try laden affair and it was Connacht’s turn to next cross the white wash. Quick thinking from scrum-half Stephen Kerins’ saw the Sligoman run a penalty and establish the Eagles field position deep in Munster territory.
After phases of pressure, the ball was recycled wide to lock Niall Murray and the Roscommon native’s pass found Kilgannen and the winger touched down tight to the left hand touchline. Despite the narrow angle, Conor Dean slotted a brilliant conversion.
Munster would add the final score of a fiercely competitive half with Healy’s penalty taking the half time score to 17-12 to the visitors.
There was no let up in intensity in the second half, even with a raft of changes from both teams.
Aungier, who replaced Conor Kenny at tight-head, made an instant impact when he picked the ball off the back of a surging rolling maul and dove over from close range. Dean once again made no mistake with the conversion and the Eagles established a deserved 19-17 lead.
Munster continued to probe in search of a win and they eventually broke Connacht’s resolve -- which had stoutly denied the visitors -- with Barron completing his brace with a powerful burst from close range seeing him burrow over the line.
The conversion drifted wide, but Munster held on to seal the victory.
The Eagles will be disappointed to lose but there are ample positives for the players and the coaching staff to take into the season.
Connacht Eagles team:
John Porch; Colm de Buitlear, Sam Arnold, Tom Daly Diarmuid Kilgannen; Conor Dean, Stephen Kerins.
(8-1) Sean Masterson, Conor Oliver(C), Oisin McCormack; Niall Murray, Cian Prendergast; Conor Kenny, Jonny Murphy, Jordan Duggan
16. Dylan Tierney-Martin
17. Matthew Burke
18. Jack Aungier
19. Darragh Murray
20. Joshua Dunne
21. Colm Reilly
22. Cathal Forde
23. Shane Jennings
24. Oran McNulty
25. Peter Sullivan