By John O’Sullivan

 

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. 

Connacht team: 

 

(15-9)

15: Tiernan O’Halloran 

14: John Porch 

13: Tom Daly 

12: Bundee Aki 

11: Matt Healy 

10: Jack Carty 

9: Caolin Blade 

 

(8-1)

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.

The Connacht management team have again drafted the three representatives in the Ireland Six Nations squad straight into the starting team for tomorrow’s crucial Guinness PRO14 interpro away to Munster (k/o 7.35pm).
 
Bundee Aki is retained at centre following his release from Ireland duty last weekend, while Dave Heffernan and Ultan Dillane both start at hooker and second row respectively.
 
In all there are 7 changes from the side that secured a last-minute win at Benetton. Denis Buckley comes into an experienced front row with Heffernan and Finlay Bealham, while Gavin Thornbury in in the the second row alongside Dillane.
 
Conor Oliver starts at openside flanker to face his former club, joining captain Jarrad Butler and Paul Boyle to complete the pack.
 
There’s a new look half-back pairing of Caolin Blade and Jack Carty, while there are also new faces on the wings with Matt Healy and John Porch coming into the starting line-up. 12, 13 and 15 are unchanged from the Benetton win with Aki, Tom Daly and Tiernan O’Halloran all retained.
 
In all 9 of the starting 15 are Connacht centurions as the side look to extend an all-time club record of 5 straight wins away from home.
 
Head Coach Andy Friend says the importance of the fixture is not lost on the squad.
 
“We know exactly what we need to do tomorrow night in Limerick. There has been barely any talk of securing Champions Cup qualification because our first objective has always been 1st place in the Conference B, so all our focus since last weekend has been on getting a win that gives us that fighting chance of a final spot.”
 
Regarding his team selection, Friend added:
 
“Thankfully we haven’t picked up any major injury worries in our last two games so we’ve a pretty healthy squad apart from our long-term absentees. We’ve named a very experienced starting XV but we’ve made sure to also reward those who showed good form in our last few games. Overall we’re in a positive place and we’re really looking forward to the challenge.”
 
Ahead of the game all Connacht players and management returned negative results in the latest round of PCR testing.
 
CONNACHT MATCHDAY 23 VS MUNSTER RUGBY
Friday 5th March, Thomond Park, kick-off 7.35pm

Name/Number/Caps
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (189)
14. John Porch (33)
13. Tom Daly (40)
12. Bundee Aki (108)
11. Matt Healy (145)
10. Jack Carty (151)
9. Caolin Blade (124)
1. Denis Buckley (194)
2. Dave Heffernan (138)
3. Finlay Bealham (152)
4. Ultan Dillane (108)
5. Gavin Thornbury (52)
6. Jarrad Butler (68) (C)
7. Conor Oliver (14)
8. Paul Boyle (52)

Replacements
16. Shane Delahunt (92)
17. Matthew Burke (19)
18. Jack Aungier (11)
19. Niall Murray (11)
20. Eoghan Masterson (104)
21. Kieran Marmion (178)
22. Sean O’Brien (Acad) (4)
23. Alex Wootton (15)

By John O’Sullivan

 

Forwards coach Jimmy Duffy says Connacht will need to be accurate in order to defeat Munster in Friday evening’s 7:35 pm Guinness PRO14 clash at Thomond Park. 

 

Both teams are vying for first place in Conference B and subsequent final qualification with nine points separating Munster in first, 50 points, and Connacht in second, 41 points, meaning the game will likely have a big bearing on the final standings come the season’s end.

 

Duffy insists that the Westerners are intent on winning the game, and maintains that accuracy — in the set-piece, defence and attack — will be the determining factor in the interprovincial derby.

 

“For us, it’s about winning every moment,” the former Connacht second row said of the strategy against their southern rivals.

 

“We’re going to have to play for the whole 80 minutes, which we showed on the weekend(the victory over Benetton Rugby), which was good preparation. Obviously, Munster are flying it at the minute, so, for us, it’s about staying in the fight for as long as we need to and capitalise on the opportunities when they arise.

 

“They are a quality side. There’s a number of international players they have away with the Irish team at the moment, but what’s remaining there will be another full international pack, with another five or six guys who have played international rugby in the backline. They have got really, really good players and they believe in themselves and they work really hard. They have a very strong set-piece, good attacking game, good kicking game.

 

“They’ve got threats all over the park, either in midfielder or the back three or upfront. Quality operators who have been around the game a long time, so for us it’s just about matching that in all aspects and capitalising on the opportunities, as I said earlier.”

 

Meanwhile, Duffy says that the players’ confidence in their set-piece systems in the win over Benetton was pleasing to see as a forwards coach.

 

Turning down the opportunity to kick a penalty at goal and draw the game against the Italians, Connacht elected for the line out. The initial throw was turned over, but when the Westerners won another penalty they again kicked to the line. At the second time of asking, the rolling maul proved too powerful and Bundee Aki was the benefactor and touched down at the tail of the drive.

 

“We trusted the lads to make the right call,” the forward’s coach said of the final minutes away in Italy.

 

“We knew we had to ride a massive amount of weight that they would be throwing at us, Treviso hit that front side of the maul extremely hard. If you’re patient and just manage to slow it down, then you can actually create an opportunity.

 

“For me, it was very pleasing on the weekend that they went back and backed the system and got that opportunity, created it and scored, which was fantastic. It’s a huge part of the game and there’s a hairs breadth from being successful and not successful, but it was really, really pleasing. Oisin Dowling was the man who called that option, which is great and it was lovely to see him involved.”

 

Elsewhere, full-back Tiernan O’Halloran says that Connacht will have to impose their game-plan on Munster and not just look to contain the Thomond Park side.

 

The Irish international is confident that the squad trusts their strategy and will look to play the style that suits their strengths and that will lead to a win.

 

The initial meeting between the teams ended with a narrow, 10-16, win for the southern province and O’Halloran says that the Westerners recent away record — Connacht broke a club record for consecutive away leagues with five wins in a row after beating Benetton — gives them confidence that they can go to Limerick and return with a win.

 

“We’re not in any way going to go down there and try to shut up shop for 80 minutes and try to force mistakes from them,” the Clifden native said.

 

“We’re fully going down to win the game as well. I think if you look at everything since the pandemic happened with away records, and we have won five on the row on the road, and I think you have to factor in that the atmosphere usually at Thomond Park creates a lot of pressure. Any little mistakes and the crowd will feed off that. That in itself releases a slight bit of pressure as well and opens up the game a bit more and you can see teams are winning away from home much easier.

 

“Not in any way are we going down there to shut up shop, we’re happy to trust our game plan and trust what we can do. We have got our Irish lads released this week as well, so we will be fully stocked and loaded.”

Fixtures and kick-off times for the return of the Guinness PRO14 from August 21 can now be confirmed after consultation with clubs and broadcasters.
 
An abbreviated schedule will see the 2019/20 Guinness PRO14 regular season run to 15 rounds followed by Semi-finals and a Final across four consecutive weeks.
 
Round 14 will kick-off in Italy on Friday, August 21 with Benetton Rugby welcoming Zebre to Treviso live on DAZN and Premier Sports before a jam-packed Saturday schedule delivers a feast of mouth-watering derby action in the UK and Ireland.
 
In Wales, Scarlets face Cardiff Blues in Llanelli upon their return to rugby with head coach Glenn Delaney taking charge of the hosts for the very first time. That game will be followed by Edinburgh’s clash with Glasgow Warriors in the Scottish capital and the final game on Saturday sees Munster visit Aviva Stadium in Dublin, where Leinster are looking to extend their record unbeaten run of 14 games in the Guinness PRO14.
 
The opening weekend rounds off on Sunday with Ospreys taking on Dragons in Swansea and Connacht facing Ulster in Dublin (live on TG4). All games are live on Premier Sports, eir Sport and DAZN. Round 15 will again feature derbies across the UK, Ireland and Italy across Friday, August 28 to Sunday, August 30.
 
David Jordan, Tournament Director of the Guinness PRO14, said: “So far we have been encouraged by the developments that have allowed all of our teams to return to training. Thanks to the great efforts of our clubs and unions, the willingness of governments and the support of our broadcasters we now have a fixture list to look forward to.
 
“Everyone who makes our games possible has had to adapt to a new way of working under the restrictions of the pandemic and the response of all our key stakeholders has been very impressive. With these fixtures now confirmed we are all geared to safe delivery of these games and to the welcome return of rugby after such a long period without the sport.”

 
Guinness PRO14 Restart Fixtures – Round 14 & 15
 
All games live on Premier Sports, eir Sport & DAZN. Live game on TG4 indicated below
All kick-off times listed at UK/IRE unless stated
 
Round 14

Friday, August 21
Benetton Rugby v Zebre | Stadio Monigo, Treviso at 19:00 (20:00 ITA)

Saturday, August 22
Scarlets v Cardiff Blues | Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli at 15:00 UK
Edinburgh v Glasgow Warriors | BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh at 17:15
Leinster v Munster | Aviva Stadium, Dublin at 19:35

Sunday, August 23
Ospreys v Dragons | Liberty Stadium, Swansea at 14:15
Connacht v Ulster | Aviva Stadium, Dublin at 16:30 (live on TG4)
 
Round 15

Friday, August 28
Glasgow Warriors v Edinburgh | BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh at 19:35

Saturday, August 29
Dragons v Scarlets | Rodney Parade, Newport at 17:15
Ulster v Leinster | Aviva Stadium, Dublin at 19:35

Sunday, August 30
Munster v Connacht | Aviva Stadium, Dublin at 15:00
Cardiff Blues v Ospreys | Rodney Parade, Newport at 17:00
Zebre v Benetton Rugby | Stadio Lanfranchi, Parma at 19:00 UK (20:00 ITA)
 
Guinness PRO14 Final Series
Semi-Finals: To be played on the weekend of September 4/5/6
Finals: To be played on Saturday, September 12

Munster 27

 

Connacht 14

 

Courtesy of pro14rugby.org

 

Two converted Connacht tries were not enough to overcome a strong Munster who were chasing the top spot of Conference A of the PRO14.

Keen to bury the disappointment of their European loss to Saracens last week, Munster were hit by the loss of Conor Murray in the warm-up.

That brought in Neil Cronin to start at No.9 opposite Kieran Marmion, and it was the latter who edged their early exchanges in an impressive opening quarter for the visitors.

Conor Dean, son of former Triple Crown winner Paul Dean, missed an early kick at goal for Connacht but Tyler Bleyendaal made no mistake at the other end.

But Connacht then got the try their bright start deserved, Bealham on his return from injury grounding cleverly from close range under the posts and Dean adding the extras.

Munster then thought they had mustered an immediate response when Andrew Conway picked off an interception and raced under the posts.

But the winger failed to notice the retreating Stephen Fitzgerald who knocked the ball clear before Conway could ground it and Connacht survived.

That was a short stay of execution however, and Beirne went charging through before rounding Niyi Adeolokun to dot down.

Bleyendaal converted and now Munster were starting to purr. Conway – keen to make up for his error – got free down the right and fed Peter O’Mahony who put Haley clear for their second.

Bleyendaal added the extras for a 17-7 half time lead, Dean missing a late penalty for the visitors in a mixed first-half display for the youngster.

At the start of the second half Munster blew a great chance to extend their lead after a Dan Goggin break but Bleyendaal’s penalty made it 20-7.

The second half became a scrappy affair with tempers fraying and when Jeremy Loughman saw yellow, Connacht finally made their mounting pressure tell as McKeon battered his way over and Dean added the extras.

But no sooner had Connacht given themselves a chance than the 14 men of Munster hit back to put the game to bed, replacement Hanrahan darting under the posts after Sam Arnold’s impressive work in the build-up.

Overall a keenly contested affair but for both sets of supporters, attention will shift to the knock out games next weekend.

Connacht Academy out-half Conor Dean is set to make his debut for the province in the Guinness PRO14 clash with Munster in Thomond Park on Saturday (Kick off 7:35pm). 21 year old Dean is in his first year in the Academy and becomes the seventh player from Connacht’s Academy to be handed a start this season by Head Coach Andy Friend.
 
Dean will form a half back partnership with Irish international scrum half Kieran Marmion. The back line has further international experience with the midfield partnership of Bundee Aki and former Ireland 7s Captain Tom Daly.
 
In the back three, Stephen Fitzgerald returns to Thomond Park to face his former team mates as he is named on the wing, with Niyi Adeolokun on the opposite wing and the experienced Tiernan O’Halloran at full back.
 
Up front, there is good news for Connacht, as tighthead Finlay Bealham has returned from a hand injury to take his place alongside hooker Tom McCartney and Ballinrobe man Matthew Burke at loosehead.
 
In the second row, James Cannon starts alongside Joe Maksymiw, while in the back row Captain Jarrad Butler is named at openside, with Eoin McKeon at blindside and another former Munster man Robin Copeland at number 8.
 
With Connacht already qualified for a PRO14 Quarter Final against Ulster next weekend, Head Coach Andy Friend says there is still much to play for: “Munster are an outstanding side. We saw that when we played them at home earlier in the season and they have been even better since. There is still a huge incentive for our players. We know that these interpro fixtures always bring out the best in our boys and we know that going to Thomond Park is a massive challenge”.
 
“With a quarter final next weekend, we have huge competition in the squad and that is exactly what we need at this stage of the season. This is a big opportunity for everyone involved”, Friend added.
 
 
Kick-off 7:35pm:
(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Bundee Aki, Tom Daly, Stephen Fitzgerald, Conor Dean, Kieran Marmion, (1-8) Matthew Burke, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Joe Maksymiw, James Cannon, Eoin McKeon, Jarrad Butler (Capt), Robin Copleand.
Replacements (16-23): Shane Delahunt, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, Eoghan Masterson, Paul Boyle, Caolin Blade, Eoin Griffin, Darragh Leader.
 

Ahead of Saturday’s interpro with Munster at Thomond Park, Connacht back-row Eoin McKeon spoke to the media at the pre-match press conference.
 
Here are his thoughts on the brilliant win over Cardiff 10 days ago which booked our place in the playoffs, and what he makes of the challenge facing the squad at the weekend.
 

With the EPCR tournaments taking centre stage over the weekend, attention is now back on the Guinness PRO14 this weekend when the 21st and final round of Conference games will be played.
 
Connacht are assured of a place in the Final Series, and they complete their league campaign away to provincial rivals Munster on Saturday at Thomond Park.
 
Ahead of that game the squad trained at The Sportsground this afternoon.

After a gameless week following Connacht’s qualification to the Guinness PRO14 Final Series, Andy Friend’s side complete their Conference campaign this Saturday with a trip to Limerick to face interpro rivals Munster.

While there may not be much to play for, the squad will be looking to keep their winning momentum going after victory in their last four PRO14 ties.

Here’s all you need to know about the tie.

When’s the game?

Kick-off at Thomond Park is at 7.35pm this Saturday 27th April.

What’s the state of play in the race for the playoffs?
 

Both Connacht and Munster have secured a spot in the Final Series, and while we are guaranteed a 3rd place finish, Munster head into the game still on the hunt for top spot in Conference A and a bye to the semi-finals.

Munster sit three points behind leaders Glasgow Warriors who host Edinburgh. A win for Glasgow will guarantee them top spot, but if they slip up then Munster will be hoping to capitalise.

Meanwhile Connacht will finish in 3rd regardless of the result, and will then head to Kingspan Stadium for a quarter-final against Ulster on Saturday 4th May.

How’s our recent record against them?

Connacht’s last victory over the near neighbours came at the Sportsground during the 2017/18 season when the side came from behind to claim a 20-16 win. At Thomond Park the side broke a 29 year hoodoo in 2015 when they won in Limerick by 18 points to 12 thanks to late Bundee Aki try.

How will the two teams line up?

The Connacht management team will announce their squad at 12pm on Friday when it will be named on connachtrugby.ie and the Connacht Rugby social channels.

Are tickets still available?

Tickets are available directly from Munster Rugby, so if you are intending on heading to the game contact Munster to book your spot.

What if I can’t make the game?

There will be live TV coverage on Eir Sport with the build-up beginning at 7.25pm, while TG4 will have deferred coverage from 9.30pm.

Connacht Head Coach Kieran Keane has announced his starting XV to take on Munster in Thomond Park on Saturday (Kick Of 7:45pm – Live on TG4). Irish Internationals Ultan Dillane, Kieran Marmion and Bundee Aki are all rested this weekend in an effort to manage their game time.

 

Prop Peter McCabe is given a start against his former club and he is joined in the front row by Hooker Tom McCartney and tight head Conor Carey. Quinn Roux comes into the second row and there is a third start of the season in the back row for 20 year old Sligo native and Academy player Cillian Gallagher.

 

Eoin Griffin and Pita Ahki form the new centre partnership and the back three is made up or Tiernan O’Halloran at fullback with Niyi Adeolokun and Matt Healy on the wings. Caolin Blade comes in at scrum half and will play alongside Jack Carty. Among the replacements, prop Conan O’Donnell and back row Paul Boyle make the step up from the Connacht Academy.

 

Speaking ahead of the clash with Munster, Connacht Head Coach Kieran said: “We have come through a series of big games and some guys have seen a lot of game time. Our internationals in particular are due a break especially with the Six Nations just around the corner. The squad is in a really good place at the moment. Obviously, we felt we could and should have won against Leinster and we came very close. We did the review during the week, we identified where we came up short and now we move on. The performance and effort levels from the boys over the past few weeks has been top quality and particularly in the interpro series we have seen some real character.”

We have some changes in personnel for the Munster game so there are opportunities for other guys to show what they are capable of. Munster will be hurting after their two games over the Christmas period and at home they will be a massive challenge. They have quality all over the park and I’m sure they will be really determined to get back to winning ways before they get back to European competition”.

 

#MUNvCON

Kick-off 7:45pm:

(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Eoin Griffin, Pita Ahki, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade,
(1-8) Peter McCabe, Tom McCartney, Conor Carey, Quinn Roux, James Cannon, Cillian Gallagher, Jarrad Butler, John Muldoon (Capt)

Replacements (16-23): Shane Delahunt, Conan O’Donnell, Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle, James Mitchell, Craig Ronaldson, Darragh Leader.

 

 

 

 

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