Sunday 27 May 2018

Conway sees red as Connacht come from behind to beat Munster

Connacht 20 Munster 16

Tiernan O’Halloran of Connacht celebrates with team-mate Tom Farrell, right, after scoring his side's first try
Tiernan O’Halloran of Connacht celebrates with team-mate Tom Farrell, right, after scoring his side's first try
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

JOE SCHMIDT chose not grace the Sportsground with his presence last night, instead sending a delegation of assistant coaches and no doubt Andy Farrell, Greg Feek and Richie Murphy will have plenty to tell their boss when they next meet up.

Andrew Conway’s red card tipped the balance of a rip-roaring clash as a moment of Tom Farrell brilliance secured Connacht’s second Guinness PRO14 win of the season and certainly their most satisfying.

In a week when they were both left out of Schmidt’s squad, Simon Zebo and Tiernan O’Halloran scored a try apiece and a suspension for Conway, who caught Jack Carty late and high with his elbow in the 62nd minute, could yet open the door for one of them.

The Westerners can reflect on a night for their unheralded, but utterly dominant, scrum while their always-potent backline provided two excellent scores as Farrell won it with a virtuoso effort.

For Munster, it was a frustrating night, as they brought their big guns to Galway and built an early 10-0 lead only to get dominated in so many areas thereafter.

Discipline has been an issue for Rassie Erasmus’s team this season and Conway’s dismissal won’t sit well.

Simon Zebo of Munster celebrates with team-mates after scoring his side's first try
Simon Zebo of Munster celebrates with team-mates after scoring his side's first try

With conditions in Galway absolutely perfect, the game opened at a furious pace and Munster established a foot-hold in opposition territory early on.

And while they had to wait more than an hour for their first score against Racing 92 last week, just four minutes had elapsed when they crossed in Galway as two of the players omitted by Schmidt combined brilliantly.

Munster had established an attacking opportunity in the Connacht ’22’ with a scrum, but the home side got the nudge and when the ball spilled out Kieran Marmion looked ready to counter.

Instead, he failed to gather the ball and Rory Scannell raced in and picked up well, off-loading out of the tackle to Simon Zebo who wasn’t going to be stopped from close range. Ian Keatley converted and then added a penalty as Farrell went off his feet at a ruck.

Connacht were struggling at 10-0 down as the first quarter wound down, but CJ Stander handed them the perfect chance to get on the scoreboard when he went high on Ultan Dillane.

But Jack Carty pulled his effort left and the murmurs of discontent were audible.

Munster's Andrew Conway, centre, receives a red card from referee Nigel Owens
Munster's Andrew Conway, centre, receives a red card from referee Nigel Owens

Soon, they turned to roars of celebration as Cian Kelleher caught the restart and shifted the ball to Darragh Leader who slipped a tackle and sprinted 30m into Munster territory.

Connacht settled into their phase-play before Bundee Aki brilliantly drew Scannell’s tackle and slipped the ball to Jarrad Butler who raced clear and fed O’Halloran to score.

Carty converted, but although the home fans got an initial lift they soon quietened as Keatley nailed another penalty, following a John Muldoon infringement at the ruck.

It was rip-roaring stuff and the physicality may have had Schmidt wincing as he watched from home, with Aki and CJ Stander at the forefront of the battle.

Both sides were under pressure at lineout time, but Connacht’s counter-attacking game was keeping them in it and more excellent work from Aki released O’Halloran who couldn’t chase his own kick ahead, but got the reward as Keatley carried the ball over before touching down.

That meant the home team got a five-metre scrum as half-time approached.

They earned a scrum, which in turn forced a penalty as Finlay Bealham – another left out by Ireland – got the better of Dave Kilcoyne and John Muldoon asked Carty to kick the points, which he duly did and his side went in 13-10 down at the break.

Connacht were in the hunt, but their poor lineout play consistently undid them and Tom McCartney lost five throws either side of half-time, coughing up position and possession.

There was nothing wrong with their scrum, however, and when JJ Hanrahan – an early sub for Keatley – knocked on his first touch on his own 10m-line the home side had another opportunity.

After earning a free-kick from their first attempt, they then marched the men in black backwards with their second and Nigel Owens handed Carty the chance to level matters from the tee.

He obliged and it was all-square with half an hour remaining.

Munster looked to hit back and dominated possession for the next 10 minutes but then lost Conway.

Despite the blow, Hanrahan restored his side’s lead with a fine penalty, but he was then at fault as Tom Farrell struck off rare good lineout ball, stepping inside the out-half and leaving him for dead to score.

Craig Ronaldson converted to make it a four-point game.

Munster pushed for a winner, but the home defence held firm stoutly.

The Sportsground erupted at full-time, Munster’s scalp isn’t claimed too often in these parts and this one was hard-earned.

CONNACHT – T O’Halloran; D Leader, B Aki, T Farrell, C Kelleher (N Adeolokun 53); J Carty (C Ronaldson 63), K Marmion; D Buckley (D Coulson ), T McCartney (D Heffernan), F Bealham (C Carey); U Dillane (Q Roux  68), J Cannon; E McKeon, J Butler, J Muldoon (capt) (E Masterson 75).

MUNSTER – S Zebo; K Earls, C Farrell, R Scannell, A Conway; I Keatley (JJ Hanrahan 47), C Murray (D Williams); D Kilcoyne (L O’Connor 51), R Marshall (K O’Byrne 51), J Ryan (S Archer 47); M Flanagan (S McCarthy 71), B Holland; P O’Mahony (capt), T O’Donnell (T O’Donnell 64), CJ Stander.

REF – N Owens (Wales).

Online Editors

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