Hanrahan keeps his cool to settle fiery derby clash
MUNSTER 22 CONNACHT 16
CABIN fever boiled over quite a number of times in this cranky family affair, but at the end of it all tradition was upheld as Munster maintained their winning run.
That was despite their cousins from Connacht turning up for a row, stealing possession whenever they could and dominating the set-piece, but things got sloppy for the visitors at crucial times and JJ Hanrahan's ability to hold his nerve in the maelstrom won out.
Referee Dudley Phillips was left with a difficult job, sin-binning three players and it could have been more as things threatened to get out of hand in at times horrendous conditions at Thomond Park. Both coaches were critical of the officials' inability to nip the niggle in the bud early as things boiled over.
But while around him players were losing their heads, Kerry fly-half Hanrahan was coolness personified, sending the Westerners home with just a bonus point -- secured by an incredible last-play try by Dave Heffernan amidst brawls elsewhere on the field -- to show for their considerable efforts. He scored all of the Pro12 leaders' points as they stretched their lead at the top to eight points.
Rob Penney was pleased with the progress shown by a player who has played an important role in recent weeks.
"He didn't have the best of games last week, but he is an assiduous, conscientious young man who is trying hard. He has good people around him, Simon Mannix and Ian Costello are working hard with him and it is bearing fruit, he is a talented kid who's making huge progress," said Penney, who also confirmed Simon Zebo and Donnacha Ryan would miss next week's action and are both doubtful for their next Heineken Cup clash against Gloucester.
"I am pretty pleased (with the result) given the conditions, and nature of Connacht v Munster games historically. We dominated for large parts and deserved our victory. They came to disrupt us and they deserved their result at the end."
Connacht started the better team and the hosts looked disjointed when put under pressure, but their errors, and Hanrahan's ability to punish them, cost Pat Lam's side.
The precocious out-half opened the scoring with an eighth-minute penalty after Connacht had strayed offside in the midfield and although Dan Parks, put the visitors in front with successive penalties, the youngster was over for his side's only try.
Parks turned villain as he skewed his kick to Johne Murphy, who drew Robbie Henshaw and Matt Healy before releasing James Downey, whose charge to the line was halted just short by Gavin Duffy and Craig Clarke. A few rumbles later, Hanrahan ghosted over for a try which he converted himself.
Connacht looked to hit back from there, but they had reason to be aggrieved as Phillips' whistle sounded for a phantom knock-on as Nathan White headed for the line.
That frustration was then accentuated by yet another self-inflicted wound as Frank Murphy kicked loosely under pressure and Hanrahan returned with interest. Again, the scrambling Connacht defenders drifted offside and the out-half made it 13-6.
It might have been more at the break, but Munster spurned two kickable penalties to go to touch but a messed line-out allowed the visitors escape as the half ended with the temperature raised as James Cronin grabbed Parks by the throat on the ground and both sets of players came together.
Phillips opted to just give a penalty as the half came to a close, but Connacht were almost immediately under pressure after half-time as Murphy impeded Cronin and was shown a yellow card as Hanrahan extended the lead.
Gavin Duffy committed the next error, throwing an ill-advised off-load to nobody that saw Murphy kick ahead and the covering players hold Mick Kearney up and force a scrum.
Munster finally got the edge on and forced a penalty, Cronin chose to pat the Connacht front-row on the head to add insult to injury and Nathan White took exception, delivering three punches before all 29 players joined in. The New Zealander was headed for the sin-bin, but so was the Munster loosehead for his taunts.
Hanrahan sent the penalty over as Murphy's time in the bin came to an end and Kieran Marmion was sent on with immediate effect as he charged down a Duncan Williams kick close to the line after a clever Henshaw kick had penned Munster back.
A Connacht offside let a disjointed home effort to clear off the hook but it was the Reds' time for some unforced errors that allowed Connacht an avenue back into the game and a Murphy concession at ruck time allowed Parks bring the gap back to 10 points.
Hanrahan then kicked the restart dead and Connacht applied some pressure from the scrum, with Marmion lively and Henshaw making inroads until his forward pass brought the period to an end. But the referee had noted an incident from earlier and went upstairs for a look, watched Aly Muldowney stamp on CJ Stander and gave Munster the penalty without sending Muldowney off.
Stander was denied a try due to a Niall Scannell obstruction, but Hanrahan knocked over a penalty as Phillips was playing advantage.
That seemed to finish the job, but Connacht went the length of the field -- as more fights broke out elsewhere with Keith Earls likely to be in trouble for his role -- and Fionn Carr put Heffernan over for a try that gave Connacht a deserved bonus point when Parks converted. Their coach, frustrated by their mistakes, was proud of their late resolve.
"We turned over too much ball, our kicking put us under pressure," Lam said. "You can't give Munster turnover ball and we did. Our discipline, a loose kick led to try. But I'm proud of the comeback, we took it to them direct and we were efficient at the breakdown. To score from the length of field showed character.
"We were disappointed with the first-half, but our hard work led to a bonus point. The niggle wasn't dealt with, eventually the players sort it out themselves. Off-the-ball stuff going on should be dealt with nice and early."
MUNSTER -- D Hurley; K Earls, J Murphy (I Dineen 69), J Downey, R O'Mahony; JJ Hanrahan (J Holland 77), D Williams (G Hurley 62); J Cronin (A Cotter 79), N Scannell (G Slattery 77), J Ryan (S Archer 61); Donncha O'Callaghan, D Foley (B Holland 68); P Butler (A Cotter 52-60), S Dougall (CJ Stander 47), J Coughlan.
CONNACHT -- G Duffy (E Griffin 66); F Carr, R Henshaw (J Carty 77), E Griffin (D Leader 56), M Healy; D Parks, F Murphy (K Marmion 54); B Wilkinson (D Buckley 50), J Harris Wright (D Heffernan 76); N White (R Ah You 63); M Kearney (A Muldowney 56), C Clarke (capt); A Browne (R Ah You 52-63), J Muldoon, E McKeon (G Naoupu 62).
Ref -- D Phillips (IRFU)