The great expectations for this game arising from the strong team announced the previous day seemed to be justified in the opening minutes as Munster started strongly on a dry night in Galway. Connacht could not get out of their own 22. Bundee Aki won a turnover but shortly after a knock-on handed the advantage back to Munster. From a lineout CJ carried, then Marshall, CJ again before Keatley got the ball to Farrell who showed his strength to get over the gain line and get the pass to Scannell on his shoulder. It was frenetic in the opening minutes!
A knock on as Connacht tried to intercept gave Munster a scrum in a central position. Somehow Munster lost possession and it was Kieran Marmion who came away with the ball. When he slipped and dropped the ball, Rory Scannell swooped down to take possession, accelerated between several Connacht players and then executed a superb pass to Simon Zebo who had the pace and power to get over the line despite the best efforts of three defenders. Ian Keatley converted to make in 0-7 by the fifth minute
Connacht responded well with a good break from Kelleher but the defense scrambled well. Munster were next to score through a penalty kicked successfully by Ian Keatley to make it 0-10 after 17 minutes. From the restart a knock-on gave Connacht a scrum in a good position. The Munster defense held well but a high tackle gave Connacht an opportunity to kick at goal. Jack Carty’s kick went wide but from the restart Darragh Leader made a great break. Connacht went through the phases. Rory Scannell lined up Bundee Aki but he had just gotten the pass away to man of the match Jarrad Butler who had Tiernan O’Halloran in support. The latter scored behind the posts and Carty converted to make it 7-10 after 23 minutes.
A good maul approaching the half hour mark yielded another penalty for Munster which Keatley again put between the posts to extend Munster’s lead to 7-13. However, Connacht finished the first half stronger, O’Halloran and Kelleher almost added a second try but they had to settle a few minutes later for a penalty kicked by Carty to make it 10-13 at the break.
A scrum penalty in the 50th minute gave Carty the opportunity to level the scores which he duly took. Munster changed the rest of their front row in response. After a subsequent messy scrum Nigel Owens warned both front rows. Munster seemed to do well to disrupt the next scrum but were adjudged to be “not square” and so Connacht were able to clear the danger from their 5m line.
The talking and turning point was the red card shown to Andrew Conway in the 62nd minute. He and Peter O’Mahony had been trying to block down Jack Carty’s kick. As Conway landed he caught Carty with an elbow to the head. Watching the replays it reminded me of CJ’s card in South Africa so I was not shocked by the red card but I was disappointed for the player as it was accidental but the referee has to look out for the safety of the players. Carty had to be replaced by Ronaldson, I hope he is not seriously injured.
Munster were next to score when JJ Hanrahan successfully converted a penalty kick in the 65th minute. However Connacht had the final say on the scoreboard when Tom Farrell broke through to score in the 66th minute in a move off a lineout on the 10m line. I was hoping he would be called back for a forward pass but the try was awarded and converted to put 4 points between the teams with twelve minutes left. The Fields of Athenry rang out, presumably from the home supporters based on the volume!
Adeolokun posed a threat when he burst through down the wing but Munster dealt with it and won a penalty to get them deep into Connacht territory. Another penalty kicked deep into touch got them to the 5m line. The maul was repelled and the pack took it on but knocked on! A valuable minute was used up resetting the scrum. Connacht kicked possession away and Munster came back at them. Despite going through phase after phase, (19!) in the closing minutes Munster could not make the breakthrough and only had a losing bonus point to show for their efforts.
Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, Darragh Leader, Bundee Aki, Tom Farrell, Cian Kelleher (Niyi Adeolokun ’52), Jack Carty (Craig Ronaldson ’61), Kieran Marmion: Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney (Dave Heffernan ’68), Finlay Bealham (Conor Carey ’70); Ultan Dillane (Quinn Roux ’68), James Cannon; Eoin McKeon, Jarrad Butler, John Muldoon (Eoghan Masterson ’74).
Munster: Simon Zebo, Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls, Ian Keatley (JJ Hanrahan ’46), Conor Murray: Dave Kilcoyne (Liam O’Connor ’51), Rhys Marshall (Kevin O’Byrne ’51), John Ryan (Stephen Archer ’46); Mark Flanagan (Sean McCarthy ’70), Billy Holland, Peter O’Mahony (captain), Tommy O’Donnell (Jack O’Donoghue ’63), CJ Stander.
Stats from ESPN are here and show that Billy, Peter and Tommy clocked up tackle counts in double figures. Overall the 83% tackle execution rate was lower than the required standard but it was good to see that the penalty count was kept down to 6.
Fatigue may have set in on me also this weekend, it was hard to dredge up the enthusiasm to watch the match back. I don’t think things were as bad as the reaction of some twitter experts. I think fatigue was a factor after the very physical game the previous week. This tweet I saw from @Overthehillprop reminded me that sometimes the difference between success and failure is the narrowest of margins: For whatever reason tonights game is one of the ones last season that the team were winning with last minute tries or manky drop goals
While Glasgow have opened a significant gap at the top of the table for Conference A it is the top 3 at the end of the season that is key. Munster and the Cheetahs have a good lead on the chasing pack.
A lot of talk in the build up to the game included the Ireland squad announcement and the departure at the end of the season of Simon Zebo. The try scored in this game brought his tally for Munster to 56 with opportunities to add to that during the remaining months. When he moves on there will be good competition to take on his mantle with Sweetnam, Wootton and O’Mahony hungry for starting slots in the back three along with Conway and Earls.
I watched the game in the River Bar with MRSC Dublin but the noise from the music downstairs and the constant stream of folks heading down to it in Hallowe’en outfits and make up was a bit distracting! Next weekend I will be chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland. It looks like the game will not be televised so I will be looking out for updates via Twitter. A good performance against Dragons before the break for the Autumn Internationals will be very welcome. Maybe the break will be good for my creative juices also.
To leave you with a smile in case you missed it check out the ROG gift grub from during the week about his possible role in the transfer market between Munster and Racing 92!