Maybe their recent sojourn in Siberia with it’s natural cryotherapy properties helped Connacht adapt better to the wind-chill factor in Thomond Park but the eagles swooped in, lined up their prey and left with the spoils to extend their lead at the top of the Pro12 table. My half-time tweet summed it up really:
The first half stats back it up also, as Munster hardly got their hands on the ball in the first half, while Connacht were retaining possession, offloading before the tackle, changing the angle of attack at will, with support runners providing options to the ball carrier while their ball-handling skills belied the conditions.
Ultan Dillane almost opened the scoring but while he crossed the line three defenders scrambled back to prevent him grounding the ball. An unintentional high tackle – mainly due to the player slipping as Donnacha Ryan tackled him – gave Connacht a penalty when Ronaldson converted to take a 0-3 lead.
With 17 minutes on the clock Tiernan O’Halloran slipped but managed to regain his balance and scythed his way to the line to score the opening try which was converted by Ronaldson to make it 0-10 after 17 minutes. The referee was so surprised that he had not been tackled en route that he checked for any blocking but there was no reason not to award the try.
Munster responded within minutes, winning a penalty and from the resultant lineout claimed by Jack O’Donoghue they mauled their way forward before Niall Scannell peeled away with Mark Chisholm in support driving him over the line to score. The conversion was unsuccessful and so it remained 5-10 until half time.
Munster played with more intent which created opportunities in the second half but made slow progress, taking the ball into contact after contact, before a missed pass, a slip or lack of support allowed Connacht back into the game. It was a penalty for not releasing in the tackle which allowed Connacht score first in the second half in the 57th minute when Ronaldson moved Connacht out to 5-13.
A good break by Earls kick-started a move which got Munster into the Connacht half. Playing with advantage after Connacht went offside, Keatley broke through a few tackles before offloading to Conway but as John Muldoon had tackled Conway before the pass the TMO and referee agreed that Muldoon should be sent to the bin and to our delight a penalty try was awarded which Keatley converted.
Munster could not make their numeric advantage count during the sinbinning and when Connacht’s captain was restored they seemed to go up a gear again. Earls was burned by Healy showing a great burst of speed but Earls recovered enough to make a tap tackle to slow down the green tide. It delayed the inevitable, the move ending with Henshaw making a break and getting the pass to Bundee Aki as he was tackled. I thought (wishfully) that the pass might have been forward but the TMO checked and was happy with both the pass and with the grounding so the score stood. The difficult conversion angle enabled Munster to salvage a losing bonus point when Ronaldson’s kick was wide but in truth it was more than Munster deserved but we’ll take it.
From the restart Conway jumped high to claim the ball and give us hope for a final chance to salvage our home record but it was not to be and Connacht earned their first win at Thomond since 1986! You could see from their celebrations at the full-time whistle how much this meant to them and their supporters who had travelled in numbers. Congratulations to the #1 province in Ireland, Superheroes indeed! The other three Irish provinces can learn a lot from Connacht and the exciting brand of rugby they are playing.
A big improvement will be required by the home team for the visit of Leicester in 2 weeks time which will kick off a crucial period for Munster as it will be followed by the trip to Welford Road, then home for the visit of Leinster, away to Belfast and then to Paris before the visit of Stade Francais and the game in Treviso by which time our European fate will be determined.
MUNSTER – A Conway; G van der Heever (D Hurley 51), K Earls, F Saili, L Gonzalez Amorosino; I Keatley, T O’Leary (D Williams 66); J Cronin (D Kilcoyne 62), N Scannell, BJ Botha (J Ryan h-t); D Ryan (D Foley 57), M Chisholm; CJ Stander (capt), J O’Donoghue, R Copeland.
CONNACHT – R Henshaw; T O’Halloran (D Leader 69), B Aki, C Ronaldson, M Healy; AJ MacGinty (J Carty 47), K Marmion; D Buckley (R Loughney 55), S Delahunt (D Heffernan 62), N White (F Bealham 59); U Dillane (G Naoupu 64), A Muldowney; J Muldoon (capt), J Connolly, E Masterson (S O’Brien 57).
Tommy O’Donnell was interviewed pitchside pre-match and it is great to see him back in training. Hopefully he will have a key role to play in January when Munster will have three European games back to back as the Stade Francais game has been rescheduled to the weekend of January 8-10.
Thanks to the MRSC members Babs, Joe and Donna who offered me the use of their tickets when I tweeted during the week that there were not any available to buy for the west terrace as I wanted to get one for my niece Clodagh since she was visiting Thurles for the weekend to help make the plum puddings. Before the game Pascal warned that as it was her first visit, if we lost she would be held accountable! Maybe her father’s Roscommon blood was channelled through her to have an influence on the result. She enjoyed meeting some of my friends on the west terrace, hearing the banter and the helpful advice for the referee and even before the game for the flag bearers who Tony insisted were offside since they had lined up on the “wrong” side of the 10m line! She even got to see her Aunt being recognised by a stranger who made my evening by coming over to pay me the compliment of saying that I have a “lovely way with words!”
For those who don’t follow me on Twitter or Facebook the competition last week was won by Linda Coleman Poyntz who guess of 1213 views was closest to the actual number of views for the blog of the 2008 game so she received the signed copy of Charlie Mulqueen’s “The Story of Thomond Park” in which that blog has been quoted (pages 190-192). Congratulations Linda and thanks to all who took the time to enter the competition.