Monday 22 May 2017

Familiar lament for frustrated Elwood


David Kelly

David Kelly

A result as predictable as a seasonal panto, with the home supporters voicing not too subtly their opinion that the man in the middle was the real villain of the piece.

In truth, they should look elsewhere, reserving particular grievance at the failure of George Naoupu to ground the ball in the second half when it seemed easier to score than not.

Peter Stringer – surely Peter Pan in panto – was the dastardly foil on that occasion, somehow bridging the immense gap in physique to grapple sufficiently with the immense forward who missed rugby's equivalent of an open goal.

Connacht – miffed at what seems to be the latest edict to emerge from IRB head honcho Joel Jutge's office, ie blow immediately for a penalty try at scrum time for an offence within the five-metre line – had other chances too.

Ian Keatley, one of several outstanding Munster performers, chased down wing Fetu'u Vainikolo in a positively Olympian sprint to effect another try-saving tackle in the opening act, when, one would have presumed, the wing should always beat the out-half in the foot race.

And so Munster, it would seem, never get tired of beating up on Connacht and the westerners never weary of singing the same sad lament in regretful defeat. "It was all I expected it to be," beamed Rob Penney (below), whose old school admiration for rugby derbies was clearly augmented by victory on a typically foul night in the west.

"The Connacht guys can be really happy with their performance. Eric Elwood and his team are functioning well and they're a difficult proposition, especially up here.

"But I'm equally proud of our boys being able to come up here and secure the four points heading into Christmas, so we can sit back and relax after a difficult battle."

Elwood's involvement in this fixture yet again produced a familiar script where the underdogs dared to plunder, but failed to escape with the goods – think 'Jack and the Beanstalk' with a less than happy ending for the young hero.


"As you can imagine we are pretty peed off to say the least," said Elwood, whose province's record against Munster maintained its depressingly familiar routine – now 37 defeats in 38 outings.

"We felt we did enough in the second half when we created opportunities. It wasn't our best first half with the ill discipline and that. But Fetu'u had that chance and in the second half we felt we created enough opportunities to win that game."

On an evening necessitating much huffing and puffing, the contest was effectively decided just before and after half-time, during which time the away side lurched from a 6-3 deficit into a decisive 16-6 lead.

Connacht were arguably undone by their inability to capitalise on an early trend of domination in territory and possession; they won most of the kicking duels and when Munster decided for the first time to fling the pill wide, they almost stole in for a try.

Johne Murphy's poor midfield pass was met with an even worse attempted catch by Luke O'Dea and before we could say, "He's behind you," Vainikolo was gambolling towards the corner. The Samoan didn't expect anyone to be behind him so quickly, though.

"Ian is a quick guy and with Fetu'u in space, that really sets the alarm bells ringing," said Penney admiringly. "He did a great job, not only to get to him, but also to make a fantastic tackle that took him into touch without allowing him to dot the ball down."

Still, Connacht were in control until they utterly lost it.

A bad slap down off their own line-out ball resulted in a series of compound errors, a sin-binning for Jason Harris-Wright and then the penalty try, awarded by Dudley Philips on the first failure; Penney offered kudos to Stephen Archer here and for much of the evening.

Elwood wasn't so charitable. "Maybe I might get myself in trouble, but it seems to be the new buzz thing," he said, referencing a similar decision in Ravenhill a night earlier.

"I didn't think there was anything in it really, it was going slightly sideways if anything and straight away it was a penalty try. I just thought it was harsh.

"There were a couple of other decisions I wasn't happy with, to be honest. But it was a turning point in the game and then they got another penalty off another scrum just after that to get a good buffer at half-time.

"We keep hearing that you have got to be understanding of the elements, be it line-out throwing, or secure footing or under foot, but it wasn't a penalty try, that's my view on it.

"I spoke to Rob and he was a little bit amazed where it came from too, but he is happy he got seven points from it. Things like that can turn games, particularly derby games, tight ball games. It was a big seven points."

When Munster had their man binned – James Downey for a high tackle in the 64th minute – Connacht wastefully failed to maximise the allocated time with the extra man.

While they played the more pleasing rugby, Munster dogged it out with efficient contributions from their loose forwards, augmented by the odd Donncha O'Callaghan steal from a poor home line-out or yet another penalty from the dominant scrum.


Connacht didn't help themselves, though, Dan Parks missing the penalty resulting from Downey's exit while Naoupu then fluffed his chance thanks to Stringer's intervention.

"That was the Peter Stringer of old," enthused Penney. "He was superb, he marshalled the guys well. It was really fitting that he was in the final act there with George and the outcome was positive for us."

As it always seems to be on these occasions.

Elwood grimaced when reminded that a trip to Leinster awaits, while Penney almost did a jig of delight in anticipation of Ulster's visit to Thomond.

"Bring it on! It's beautiful, isn't it? These local derbies are fantastic."

Connacht – R Henshaw; T O'Halloran (M Jarvis 26), D Poolman, D McSharry, F Vainikolo (E Griffin 67); D Parks, K Marmion (P O'Donohoe 67); B Wilkinson (D Buckley 48), J Harris-Wright (E Reynecke 66), N White (capt, R Loughney 66), G Naoupu, M McCarthy, A Browne (M Swift 51), J O'Connor (E Grace 72), E McKeon.

Munster – D Hurley; J Murphy, C Laulala, J Downey (D Barnes 75), L O'Dea (JJ Hanrahan 76); 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 69).

Ref – D Philips (IRFU).

Irish Independent

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