Connacht rue missed opportunity to end Munster jinx
Munster's dominance in this fixture was maintained in atrocious conditions at the Sportsground last night when Connacht failed to turn possession into enough scores to win the match.
Connacht have only defeated Munster once in the professional era – one win in 38 games now – and they will feel this was a chance let slip from their grasp against a Reds side minus most of their Irish internationals.
Both sides were bidding to bounce back from disappointing Heineken Cup defeats but in the end it was Munster who did enough to get across the line and claim the victory which keeps their top-four hopes firmly on track.
A strong crossfield wind and incessant rain made conditions testing for any constructive rugby and both sides kept it tight and tried to find field position with the boot.
Connacht enjoyed plenty of possession in the opening half but still found themselves 13-6 adrift at the interval after Munster produced a strong finish to the first half.
Dan Parks used all of his kicking ability to steer a penalty between the posts from the left after 11 minutes, keeping the flight of the ball low.
Ian Keatley, who spent three seasons at the Sportsground, had a considerably easier task to equalise five minutes later after a good drive off a lineout by the visitors.
Parks, who had earlier come close to putting Dave McSharry through with a chip, again steered a penalty home, this time from 30 metres, and it took a superb chase and tackle by Keatley to deny Fetu'u Vainikolo in the left corner after he pounced when Luke O'Dea dropped a pass just after the half-hour mark.
Munster responded to the let-off by countering, and a succession of drives led to Connacht hooker Jason Harris-Wright being binned, with the visitors opting for a scrum and referee Dudley Phillips awarded a penalty try on the first put-in.
Keatley slotted the conversion to see Munster take a seven-point advantage into the break. He extended that just a minute after the restart after Peter Stringer pounced off a ruck and Connacht hooker Ethienne Reynecke was pinged. That left Munster 16-6 in front but Connacht managed not to concede any further scores while they were down a man, and with Parks orchestrating procedures, they fought their way back into contention.
Parks reduced the margin with a 45th-minute penalty in front of the posts and 10 minutes later cut it to four points with a drop goal.
That opportunity arose after he dinked a 22 dropout for Eoin McKeon to break from deep, but Munster scrambled back to prevent the concession of a try.
The conditions resulted in both sides turning to the kickers to gain ground and both Parks and Keatley delivered despite the deterioration in the weather.
Munster centre James Downey, who spent a couple of seasons at the Sportsground, was sinbinned after 63 minutes for a high tackle on Mike McCarthy, but Parks was narrowly off target with the penalty from 40 metres.
Keatley continued to peg Connacht back with some astute field kicking as the home side struggled to make their extra man count.
Then Connacht were sure they had hit the front when George Naoupu slid over in the left corner after a chip from Eoin Griffin nine minutes from time, but their celebrations were cut short when TMO Marshall Kilgore adjudged that the forward had not grounded the ball.
Connacht continued to press but their lineout was in difficulty – they lost six of their own throws – and a penalty to touch four minutes from time was lost.
Parks's earlier miss meant that Connacht had no option but to run a penalty 30 metres in front of the posts two minutes from time, but Munster's defence held firm and they sealed the win.
Scorers – Connacht: D Parks 3 pens, d-g. Munster: pen try; I Keatley 3 pens, cons.
Connacht: R Henshaw; T O'Halloran (M Jarvis 25), D Poolman, D McSharry, F Vainikolo (E Griffin 67); D Parks, K Marmion (P O'Donohoe 67); B Wilkinson (D Buckley 47), J Harris-Wright (E Reynecke 66), N White (R Loughney 7-19 blood, 66); G Naoupu, M McCarthy; A Browne (M Swift 51), J O'Connor (E Reynecke 36-46, E Grace 72), E McKeon.
Munster: D Hurley; L O'Dea (JJ Hanrahan 76), C Laulala, J Downey (D Barnes 75), J Murphy; I Keatley, P Stringer; D Kilcoyne (W du Preez 70), M Sherry, S Archer (BJ Botha 70; D O'Callaghan, B Holland; P Butler, T O'Donnell, J Coughlan (S Dougall 67).
Referee: Dudley Phillips (IRFU).
Sunday Indo Sport