38.42 Chris Cloete scored and as the clock went red, Joey converted to put Munster ahead at half time.
77.48 Diarmuid Barron crashed over the try line and Joey converts to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
They call them championship minutes, those key moments at the end of each half and while there are no trophies handed out after four rounds, nor was this a display worthy of champions, the ability to win ugly often proves crucial over the course of the campaign.
As interprovincials go this was a closely fought contest in poor conditions with plenty of niggle. I was able to appreciate more of the good aspects of play by both teams watching the game back than I could on the day given the tension then as the errors made it a frustrating game to watch. Heavy rain pre-game had abated by kick-off but still impacted handling and footing. A strong breeze gave Connacht the advantage in the first half as they kept Munster pinned back yet all they had to show for it approaching the break were two penalties kicked by Jack Carty both in the opening nine minutes. Munster had been slowly growing into the game but handling errors and a misfiring lineout put them on the back foot time and again. A yellow card for Sam Arnold for a dangerous tackle on Mike Haley in the 32nd minute gave Munster a numeric advantage. Then came the breakthrough, playing with advantage Rory Scannell lofted a kick to the east wing. Tadhg Beirne – back after his Lions experience – hacked it on and Chris Cloete got the downward pressure to score a try, awarded after TMO consultation. Reading about it since there was a potential offside missed (on a night of several close calls and dubious decisions) but I believe Tom of TRK has studied it carefully and his conclusion is that it was a marginal call which looks less marginal with some camera angles than others.
The excellent conversion gave Munster a 7-6 lead at the break with the wind advantage to come for the second half. They started well and soon had to go to the TMO again but they failed to convert pressure into points when Cloete broke from the maul. He was held up but Craig thought he had scored when he plucked the ball out of Cloete’s hand and touched down. Rules were considered as we deliberated the footage but it was discounted just before Sam returned to action. Stout Connacht defence on their goal line repelled another phase of pressure by Munster in the 46th minute, the build-up to which featured a slick offload from Gavin to Tadhg. A lineout steal put Munster back on the front foot. Connacht compounded their error by infringing offside and Joey kicked it over the bar to make it 10-6 on 48 minutes. Then Connacht had a purple patch. Mike Haley was called on to make a try saving tackle against Mack Hansen but a later infringement by Tadhg was penalised. Paul Boyle took the quick tap and dived over to put Connacht back in front 10-11
Joey edged Munster ahead with a penalty to bring it to 13-11 before a tackle in the air on Peter had us protesting when no card was produced as it was adjudged to be a penalty offence only. It felt like the game was slipping away when Jack Carty blocked down and scored a try from Joey’s kick to take the lead 13-18 with ten minutes to go but there was no panic on the pitch as they worked themselved into the position they needed to score.
From the restart Munster put pressure on the visitors, Fineen won a turnover when they formed a maul around the recipient of the kick-off. Another penalty won was taken quickly as Munster went for the try not looking for a three pointer. Another penalty conceded by Connacht in midfield and they opted again for a tap and go. That resulted in another scrum opportunity for Munster as the clock ticked on to 74 minutes. The crowd urged them on, sensing more drama was about to unfold. Gavin broke from the back but was well tracked by the defence. Bodies were flying into rucks everythwere on both sides but Munster retained possessoion. Connacht defence strayed offside and Diarmuid tapped to go again. From the melee Jack got the short pass to Diarmuid who was then loitering with intent to the left side and he dived between two defenders to score. The stadium erupted into cheers and applause as the pressure paid off. Joey’s nerveless conversion put Munster into the lead 20-18 with less than a minute to play. Fineen claimed the restart and Munster retained possession. Gavin drove Munster back upfield to the halfway line before Craig kicked the ball off the park Delight mixed with relief as we celebrated the win.
Other highlights of the game include a lovely offload from Dave Kilcoyne to John Ryan as both props made serious inroads at an early stage; Simon’s athleticism to save conceding a 50/22 lineout shortly before the second Connacht penalty; turnovers at the breakdown by both teams, some excellent counter running by Mike. It was great to see Andrew Conway back in fine attacking form also, he was unlucky with a kick ahead that just refused to go over the sideline while another break taking an inside pass from Craig had us on the tips of our toes. On the other side, the lineout malfunctioned including one right in front of us when Andrew Conway stood at the front of the line but there were some super steals also. The new rules are beginning to bed in and you can see how the 50/22 and goal line clearance kick if held up over the line will change the nature of games – providing more attacking opportunities especially from the former. As the season unfolds it will be interesting to see which teams derive the most benefit from the changes.
Munster: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Keith Earls, Rory Scannell (rep: Dan Goggin ’57-67 HIA), Simon Zebo; Joey Carbery, Craig Casey; Dave Kilcoyne (rep: Jeremy Loughman ’54), Niall Scannell (rep: Diarmuid Barron ’54), John Ryan (rep: Stephen Archer ’54); Jean Kleyn (rep: Fineen Wycherley ’60), Tadhg Beirne; Peter O’Mahony, Chris Cloete (rep: Jack O’Donoghue ’68), Gavin Coombes. Not Used Replacements: Neil Cronin, Jake Flannery
Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, John Porch, Sammy Arnold (yellow card 33-43), Bundee Aki, Mack Hansen, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade (rep: Kieran Marmion ’61); Matthew Burke (rep: Greg McGrath ’74), Dave Heffernan (rep: Shane Delahunt ’59), Finlay Bealham (rep: Jack Aungier ’64), Niall Murray, Ultan Dillane (rep: Eoghan Masterson ’74), Cian Prendergast (rep: Jarrad Butler ’55), Conor Oliver, Paul Boyle (rep: Abraham Papali’i ’59) Not Used Replacements: Tom Daly
The rain started on our journey to Thomond as we passed through County Tipperary and it was a constant throughout our 2 hours on the terrace pre-game but thankfully it cleared by kick-off. We were sheltered from the wind by the stand but when I held up my flag especially at the start of the second half it was very strong impacting the kicking game. It was good to catch up with Anne, Brian and Conor. Paul took some slagging for wearing his shades but those lights on top of the east stand are dazzling. Jean Wallace was there to sing Stand Up and Fight pre-game but instead of being on the pitch she was in the West Terrace North just across from our section so Imelda had Ger take the photo above of her with the masked choir. We missed Kevin’s leadership to kick off the singing throughout the game. Mark stepped up in the first half to launch us into song when there were “handbags” featuring Peter O’Mahony. Masks were worn by the majority in our section, not just for the photo opp.
The tribute to Anthony Foley on the 5th anniversary of his death was marked by a team huddle in midfield before Peter led the team on a circuit of half the pitch to tremendous applause as the photo of Axel beamed out from the big screens at either end.
Congrats to the Munster ladies who won their Interpro Championship in September. It was great to see them in Thomond at half time with their trophy and to rewatch their highlights on the big screen. Hopefully some of them will also have the opporttunity to shine for Ireland in their upcoming November internationals.
On a personal note, happy heavenly birthday to my late father, I miss our rugby chats amongst other things… Strange how the fixtures list and the break for the November Internationals mean that we won’t be back in Thomond until the weekend before Christmas! It is worth checking out Keith Earls on the Late Late Show on the RTE player for the next few weeks, including a snippet here from Twitter as not sure if the player is geo-restricted