Connacht claim rare Munster scalp
Connacht claimed the prized scalp of provincial rivals Munster after fighting back from 13 points down to clinch a memorable 24-16 New Year's Day victory in gusty Galway.
The westerners' first win over Munster since December 2008 - and only their second in the last 42 meetings - saw them extend their unbeaten home record this season to eight games.
Ian Keatley, the former Connacht fly-half, used his knowledge of the famed Sportsground wind to help Munster lead this hard-edged Guinness Pro12 derby 13-0 by the quarter hour mark.
He converted Peter O'Mahony's 10th-minute try and kicked two penalties in very difficult conditions, before a brilliantly engineered try by Kieran Marmion - started and converted by Craig Ronaldson - got Connacht back in touch.
Keatley's third successful penalty made it 16-7 to the visitors at half-time, only for wind-backed Connacht to respond with 17 unanswered points in the third quarter.
Well-worked tries from fly-half Ronaldson and lock Aly Muldowney were both converted by Darragh Leader, with Ronaldson's replacement Miah Nikora landing a 55th-minute penalty.
Although they threw everything at Connacht in a gripping climax, Munster endured a scoreless second half thanks to some defiant, disciplined defending from the hosts.
This interprovincial tie started as it finished with Anthony Foley's side pinning Connacht back in their 22.
After returning captain O'Mahony forced his Connacht counterpart John Muldoon to concede a ruck penalty, Keatley gave the visitors a seventh-minute lead.
Connacht's maul defence has been particularly strong this season, but they were found wanting when O'Mahony found space to power over in the left corner with support from BJ Botha and Duncan Williams.
A superb conversion was swung over by Keatley for 10-0 and he soon added a second penalty, as Connacht desperately tried to bludgeon forward through their pack and lively centre Bundee Aki.
It took some terrific interplay between the home backs, on the half hour, to finally carve open the Munster defence. Man-of-the-match Robbie Henshaw gobbled up Ronaldson's pinpoint kick over the top and he rode a tackle before passing for the supporting Marmion to dive over to the left of the posts.
Ronaldson drove over the conversion to close the gap to six points and just as the tide seemed to be turning, a high tackle by Aki on Simon Zebo allowed Keatley to close out the first half's scoring.
However, Connacht made the ideal start to the second period, Henshaw again hurtling through the Munster midfield and although Aki was hauled down close to the posts, a quick recycle saw Ronaldson crash over past two defenders.
The Connacht fly-half injured himself in the act of scoring, so winger Leader stepped up to add the conversion and make it a two-point game - 16-14.
The centre pairing of Aki and Henshaw did some further damage before an offside decision saw Nikora boot Connacht in front with 25 minutes remaining.
A storming carry by Quinn Roux soon got the westerners back into scoring range and from a subsequent scrum, the fast-breaking Marmion was stopped just short before Muldowney muscled over from a couple of metres out.
The home crowd roared with delight as Leader added the extras from the left and despite Paul O'Connell and company clawing their way back to the 22 through countless phases, Connacht survived a spate of late onslaughts to ensure they started 2015 with a considerable bang.