Rhys Marshall's try proves crucial for Munster as they win at Connacht
Rhys Marshall's 56th-minute try guided GUINNESS PRO12 leaders Munster to a 16-9 win over injury-ravaged Connacht in tough conditions at the Sportsground.
Despite making a raft of changes from last Monday's home victory over Leinster, Rassie Erasmus' men maintained their winning form and handed Connacht their first defeat in seven games in Galway.
Two Ian Keatley penalties gave Munster a 6-3 interval lead in the unrelenting wind and rain, with Jack Carty landing the second of his two first-half attempts at goal.
Carty then drew Connacht level in the 50th minute, but Kiwi hooker Marshall's score from a well-executed maul, converted brilliantly by man-of-the-match Keatley who added a drop goal, proved decisive.
Carty's third successful penalty secured a losing bonus point for Connacht and although Dave Kilcoyne and Duncan Williams were both sin-binned, Munster doggedly held the hosts at arm's length in the dying minutes.
Captain John Muldoon and Sean O'Brien passed late fitness tests, reducing Connacht's eye-watering injury list to 23 players, but it was the table toppers who dictated play early on.
Fast-starting Munster got Keith Earls involved in an initial attack and Dave Foley was tackled short of the try-line before Keatley turned a resulting penalty into points.
After his opposite number Williams' kick was blocked, Connacht scrum half Kieran Marmion was inches way from an opportunist try as he chased down the covering Keatley in the right corner.
The deteriorating weather conditions, combined with some obvious niggle, made for some stop-start exchanges with Munster looking to retrieve possession from Williams' box kicks and Connacht handling more possession.
Fly-half Carty miscued a penalty attempt after the westerners had won a scrum decision and then a knock-on robbed them of a mauling opportunity five metres out.
Carty had the home side level on the half hour mark, rewarding another strong scrum with a well-struck kick from the 10 metre line. However, Munster forced a maul penalty and Keatley expertly found the target again to restore the three-point advantage by half-time.
The Carty-versus-Keatley shootout continued into the second period, the latter missing an initial long-range effort and Carty making it six points apiece after Munster conceded another scrum penalty.
James Cronin and his replacement Kilcoyne gave away successive penalties, but excellent defending of a Connacht maul, coupled with Keatley's cross-field kick fetched by Andrew Conway, sent Munster countering downfield.
Erasmus' side did exactly what Connacht had been trying to do a few minutes earlier when a terrific maul set-up near the left corner propelled Kiwi hooker Marshall over the line for the all-important try, converted with aplomb by Keatley.
Connacht were visibly tiring as they admirably stuck with their regular running game. Munster's strong defence continually swallowed them up and Keatley's 68th-minute drop goal kept the men in red on course for their first victory in three visits to the Sportsground.
Kilcoyne was carded for a scrum penalty two minutes later and an offside call allowed Carty to kick Connacht within a converted score. However, they had no further scoring chances as Munster, despite the loss of scrum half Williams in injury time, shut up shop.