CONNACHT 24 MUNSTER 50, the Sportsground
Scorers: Connacht: Tries: Clara Barrett 2, Emily Gavin, Hannah Coen; Cons: Nicole Fowley 2
Munster: Tries: Alana McInerney, Clodagh O’Halloran, Deirbhile Nic a Bháird, Róisín Ormond, Eilís Cahill 2, Rachel Allen, Heather Kennedy; Cons: Nicole Cronin 5
HT: Connacht 5 Munster 19
Niamh Briggs’ charges completed a clean sweep of bonus point victories – becoming back-to-back champions for the first time since 2015 – and their all-international back row, led by number 8 Nic a Bháird, was again in marauding form.
Clodagh O’Halloran (26 minutes) and Nic a Bháird (28) both touched down to add to Alana McInerney’s opening try, with Connacht staying in the fight thanks to Clara Barrett’s fine finish from a Nicole Fowley cross-field kick.
Trailing 19-5 at half-time, the westerners cancelled out a Róisín Ormond try with a second effort from Barrett, the teenage winger’s fourth of the tournament.
Munster’s strength in depth was key, replacements Eilís Cahill (2), Rachel Allen and Heather Kennedy adding four more tries to the champions’ haul as they put the contest to bed by the hour mark.
Nonetheless, Connacht’s young guns still had a chance to sine, two tapped penalties propelling replacement front rowers Emily Gavin and Hannah Coen over the line to earn a late try bonus point.
In a fast-paced opening spell, Connacht were unable to turn Laura Feely’s turnover penalty, and the subsequent pressure, into points before Munster released Aoife Doyle to take them back up to halfway.
The visitors’ strong set-piece platform soon had them pressing for a try, the pack going close before the ball was worked out the back where Stephanie Nunan put winger McInerney over for an unconverted ninth-minute score.
Nic a Bháird quickly got Munster back on the front foot with a barnstorming run, while their defence held firm following a couple of penalties awarded to Connacht whose industrious lock Fiona Scally made some big carries.
Slick hands from Kate Flannery, on her first start, and Aoife Corey had McInerney threatening a second try on the back of a penalty won by prop Ormond. It was O’Halloran who scored it, a close-in penalty setting the Munster forwards up to take full advantage.
Nic a Bháird swiftly followed up with her fourth second try of the campaign, as the Ballincollig native brilliantly broke from halfway, outpacing Ava Ryder and handing off Mairéad Coyne before slipping out of Lily Brady’s tackle to scamper in under the posts.
Captain Nicole Cronin’s second successful conversion put 19 points between the sides, but Connacht responded to a lost lineout with Eva McCormack earning a penalty at the breakdown. This time they made sure to put points on the board.
Approaching the interval and armed with a penalty advantage, out-half Fowley unlocked the Munster defence with a pinpoint kick, connecting with Barrett who expertly judged the bounce to dot down in the left corner.
Grace Browne Moran won the breakdown battle to prevent Munster from scoring just before the break, but their bonus point score arrived just five minutes into the second period as the home defence was sliced open by full-back Corey.
She had Dorothy Wall up in support, Orla Dixon getting back to haul her down five metres out but the Ireland flanker was able to pop the ball up for the onrushing Ormond to go in under the posts. Cronin converted.
Barrett, who bagged a brace in Belfast last week, showed her finishing ability when getting her fingertips to another Fowley cross-field kick, just ahead of Corey. The Mayo youngster gathered it at the second attempt, with Fowley neatly converting to make it 26-12.
However, Munster went on to dominate most of the remaining action. Powerful young prop Cahill barged over twice, sandwiching a free-flowing try finished by Allen which owed much to the running and offloading of Dorothy Wall and Claire Bennett.
Nic a Bháird, who picked up her second Vodafone player-of-the-match award in three rounds, made the initial break before Cahill completed her brace. Connacht conceded ground off a lineout before the UL Bohemians prop proved unstoppable from a few metres out.
Cronin took her own contribution to 10 points with her fourth and fifth conversions, although Connacht did not allow their heads to drop at 45-12 down. Centre Shannon Touhey ran hard to bring them back into scoring range
A quickly-taken penalty saw Coen absorb a tackle from Dorothy Wall and stretch out for an impressively-finished five-pointer. The vocal Munster support in the 1,427-strong crowd had one final try to cheer and it came from Ballincollig flyer Kennedy.
Fowley missed touch with a clearance kick and Kennedy, from just outside the Connacht 22, showed excellent footwork to beat three defenders and score on the right.
Connacht replied in the dying seconds, a determined Coen burrowing over from an Olivia Haverty pass with Fowley adding the extras with the final kick of this free-scoring encounter.
TIME LINE: 9 minutes – Munster try: Alana McInerney – 0-5; conversion: missed by Nicole Cronin – 0-5; 26 mins – Munster try: Clodagh O’Halloran – 0-10; conversion: Nicole Cronin – 0-12; 28 mins – Munster try: Deirbhile Nic a Bháird – 0-17; conversion: Nicole Cronin – 0-19; 35 mins – Connacht try: Clara Barrett – 5-19; conversion: missed by Nicole Fowley – 5-19; Half-time – Connacht 5 Munster 19; 45 mins – Munster try: Róisín Ormond – 5-24; conversion: Nicole Cronin – 5-26; 51 mins – Connacht try: Clara Barrett – 10-26; conversion: Nicole Fowley – 12-26; 55 mins – Munster try: Eilís Cahill – 12-31; conversion: Nicole Cronin – 12-33; 60 mins – Munster try: Rachel Allen – 12-38; conversion: Nicole Cronin – 12-40; 68 mins – Munster try: Eilís Cahill – 12-45; conversion: missed Nicole Cronin – 12-45; 75 mins – Connacht try: Emily Gavin – 17-45; conversion: missed by Nicole Fowley – 17-45; 78 mins – Munster try: Heather Kennedy – 17-50; conversion: missed by Nicole Cronin – 17-50; 80 mins – Connacht try: Hannah Coen – 22-50; conversion: Nicole Fowley – 24-50; Full-time – Connacht 24 Munster 50
CONNACHT: Mairéad Coyne (Galwegians RFC); Ava Ryder (Railway Union RFC), Orla Dixon (Galwegians RFC), Shannon Touhey (Suttonians RFC), Clara Barrett (UL Bohemian RFC); Nicole Fowley (Galwegians RFC), Mary Healy (Galwegians RFC) (capt); Grainne O’Loughlin (Railway Union RFC), Lily Brady (UL Bohemian RFC), Laura Feely (Blackrock College RFC), Fiona Scally (Galwegians RFC), Eva McCormack (UL Bohemian RFC), Karly Tierney (Tuam/Oughterard RFC), Kayla Waldron (Galwegians RFC), Grace Browne Moran (Galwegians RFC).
Replacements used: Niamh O’Grady (Galwegians RFC) for O’Loughlin (48 mins), Sonia McDermott (Railway Union RFC) for McCormack (50), Mollie Starr (Galway Corinthians RFC) for Browne Moran, Éabha Nic Dhonnacha (Tuam/Oughterard RFC) for Ryder (both 58), Emily Gavin (Galwegians RFC) for Brady (59), Olivia Haverty (Galwegians RFC) for Healy (61), Hannah Coen (Galwegians RFC) for Feely, Orla Fenton (Galwegians RFC) for Waldron (both 67).
MUNSTER: Aoife Corey (UL Bohemian RFC); Aoife Doyle (Railway Union RFC), Stephanie Nunan (UL Bohemian RFC), Kate Flannery (UL Bohemian RFC), Alana McInerney (UL Bohemian RFC); Nicole Cronin (UL Bohemian RFC) (capt), Muirne Wall (UL Bohemian RFC); Róisín Ormond (Ballincollig RFC), Kate Sheehan (UL Bohemian RFC), Fiona Reidy (UL Bohemian RFC), Clodagh O’Halloran (UL Bohemian RFC), Claire Bennett (UL Bohemian RFC), Dorothy Wall (Blackrock College RFC), Maeve Óg O’Leary (Blackrock College RFC), Deirbhile Nic a Bháird (Old Belvedere RFC).
Replacements used: Chloe Pearse (UL Bohemian RFC) for Nic a Bháird (half-time), Nic a Bháird for Sheehan (50-69), Eilís Cahill (UL Bohemian RFC) for Reidy (52), Rachel Allen (UL Bohemian RFC) for Flannery, Ciara Farrell (UL Bohemian RFC) for Ormond (both 58), Gillian Coombes (Ballincollig RFC) for Bennett, Heather Kennedy (Ballincollig RFC) for Corey (both 61), Stephanie Carroll (Railway Union RFC) for Nunan, Sarah Garrett (UL Bohemian RFC) for O’Halloran (both 63).
Referee: Paul O’Connor (IRFU)