Connacht 24 – 16 Munster          

Connacht Rugby got 2015 off to a flying start with a 24 – 16 win over provincial rivals Munster tonight that also keeps their unbeaten home record intact.

Pat Lam’s men fought back from 13 – 0 down after 30 minutes to score three unanswered tries from Kieran Marmion, Aly Muldowney and Craig Ronaldson. Outhalf Ronaldson, Darragh Leader and Miah Nikora all combined to kick nine points from the tee.

Former Connacht player Ian Keatley opened the scoring on six minutes when the hosts were penalised for being off their feet. With a stiff wind behind him, the Ireland international knocked over the game’s first points.

His captain Peter O’Mahony brought the side even further ahead after ten minutes when he piled across the whitewash following a when a powerful driving maul from the 5metre lineout. Keatley impressively struck the touch line conversion to send it flying through the posts. And the outhalf was back at the kicking tee again three minutes later with a second successful penalty after Bundee Aki was pinged for obstruction, making it 0 – 13.

The momentum shifted on the half hour mark and Connacht began to take more control of the contest. A brilliant chip from Ronaldson was chased onto by Man of the Match Robbie Henshaw who beat two defenders and timed a perfect pass to Marmion to run clear and touch down for his fourth try of the season. Ronaldson kicked the two-point conversion to make it 7 – 13.

Despite the domination of possession and two powerful rolling mauls, Connacht didn’t score again in the first half and coughed up a penalty for a high tackle which Keatley simply converted.

Half time: Connacht 7 – 16 Munster

Connacht, who hadn’t beaten Munster since 2008, got off to the best possible start in the second half when Henshaw broke the Munster line again and fed to his centre partner Aki to bring play up to the try line. He was held up but Ronaldson was in support to pile over and celebrate his first try in a Connacht shirt.

The outhalf was injured in the move and was immediately replaced by Miah Nikora. Full back Leader stepped up for the conversion and tapped it over to reduce the deficit to just two points.

It was the 55th minute when Connacht first took the lead, replacement Nikora striking a penalty kick between the posts. Seven minutes later, that lead was extended again when Marmion picked a gap in the Munster defence and broke for the line. He was held up but a couple of pick and drives saw last week’s try score Aly Muldowney squeeze over once again for the five points. Leader converted again to make it 24 – 16.

The last five minutes of the game saw Munster chase a late response but the resolute Connacht defence kept them at bay and secured a historic win for Pat Lam and his squad.

Full time: Connacht 24 – 16 Munster

Connacht: Mils Muliaina; Darragh Leader, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Danie Poolman; Craig Ronaldson, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Rodney Ah You, Quinn Roux, Aly Muldowney, John Muldoon, Willie Faloon, Eoin McKeon.

Replacements: Dave Heffernan for McCartney (17-25 mins), Miah Nikora for Ronaldson (44 mins), Finlay Bealham for Ah You (51 mins), George Naoupu for McKeon (56 mins), Ultan Dillane for Roux (69 mins), Dave Heffernan for Faloon (70 mins), Dave McSharry for Muliaina (74 mins).

Munster: Simon Zebo; Andrew Conway, Pat Howard, JJ Hanrahan, Ronan O’Mahony; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; John Ryan, Duncan Casey, BJ Botha, Billy Holland, Paul O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony, Tommy O’Donnell, CJ Stander.

Replacements: Kevin O’Byrne for Casey (41 mins), Eusebio Guinazu for O’Byrne (57-63 mins), Ivan Dineen for Conway (65 mins), Paddy Butler for Stander (70 mins), Dave O’Callaghan for Holland (70 mins), Stephen Archer for Botha (73 mins), Eusebio Guinazu for Ryan (73 mins).

Referee: David Wilkinson

Man of the Match: Robbie Henshaw

Attendance: 7, 745 (sold out)

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