Wednesday 17 October 2018

Mighty Munster hit form just in time for Europe

Munster 39 Connacht 13

Andrew Conway and Simon Zebo of Munster celebrate after the match between against Connacht at Thomond Park. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Andrew Conway and Simon Zebo of Munster celebrate after the match between against Connacht at Thomond Park. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

It took Munster until the second half to click into gear but once they did, the hosts demolished Connacht to win their first derby of the season and end a two-game losing streak.

It was not a vintage 80-minute performance but Johann van Graan will be relieved as his side wrestled back some momentum ahead of their crucial trip to Paris to play Racing next weekend.

Connacht had impressed against Ulster and Leinster over the last fortnight, but with Kieran Keane opting to rest three of their key internationals, the Westerners looked below par.

Trailing 10-6 at the break, they were in the contest but blown away as Munster's big-game players stepped up to the mark. Ian Keatley controlled the tempo, while their electric back three wreaked havoc with Andrew Conway, in particular, providing the spark every time he got ball in hand.

Munster's Darren O'Shea scores his side's first try despite the efforts of Connacht's Cillian Gallagher. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Munster's Darren O'Shea scores his side's first try despite the efforts of Connacht's Cillian Gallagher. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Conway set Munster on their way to the bonus-point win as he added an early second-half try after Darren O'Shea had claimed the first. Conor Murray ran the show for the home side and he helped himself to two tries after Keith Earls had scored in the corner.

All week Munster had spoken of their need to eradicate their sloppy discipline but inside the first minute, they handed Connacht an early chance to score. Rory Scannell was penalised and Jack Carty bisected the posts with the resulting penalty from wide on the right.

Munster slowly gained a foothold and they eventually made the pressure count. Chris Farrell, making his first appearance since injuring his knee for Ireland against Argentina, carried powerfully in midfield, just short of the line.

The ball was recycled quickly for O'Shea, who crashed over for his second try for the province. Keatley's conversion gave his side a 7-3 lead but they were pegged back four minutes later when Farrell was pinged for not releasing Carty in the tackle. The Connacht out-half again punished Munster's indiscipline.

Keatley declined a kickable penalty and when Munster fluffed their lines after the lineout, he didn't think twice about pointing to the posts after half an hour when Jarrad Butler was penalised at the breakdown. Keatley made no mistake from in front of the sticks.

Munster continued to pile on the pressure but in keeping with a fractured first-half display, Connacht stole the ball deep inside their own 22 to trail 10-6 at the break.

Munster's Ian Keatley is tackled by Pita Ahki, left, and Tom McCartney of Connacht. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Munster's Ian Keatley is tackled by Pita Ahki, left, and Tom McCartney of Connacht. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

The lead was stretched to seven points 10 minutes after the restart when Keatley maintained his 100 per cent record with the boot.

Connacht were largely dominant at scrum time and although Munster had just won a penalty at the set-piece, Van Graan didn't hesitate in looking for two fresh props from the bench. James Cronin and Stephen Archer might claim that it was their influence that helped reignite Munster but in truth, a second try had been coming. It did, however, arrive a minute after the pair were introduced.

Tiernan O'Halloran made a mess of Keatley's clever grubber kick and Conway was on hand to pounce on the full-back's mistake and score. Keatley's unerring accuracy continued as he added the extras and suddenly Munster were 20-6 in front.

Connacht were looking ragged and Munster went for the kill. Keatley was again central to their third try as he linked well with Scannell in midfield who put Conway through a gaping hole. Conway then turned provider as he put it on a plate for Earls to score in the corner.

Keatley was wide with the conversion but it was going from bad to worse for Keane's side as Quinn Roux was sent to the sin-bin for a dangerous tip tackle on Earls, with the crowd howling for a red. The lock was lucky it wasn't.

It took Munster a minute to make their numerical advantage count as they wrapped up the bonus point with 15 minutes still on the clock.

They pounded away at the line with Cronin going close, but Murray sniped over from close range to put the result beyond any doubt. Keatley's conversion put his side into a 32-5 lead.

Murray repeated the trick six minutes later after more good work from the pack with Keatley again on target. That would be Murray's last action as he was replaced with Van Graan looking to the Champions Cup next weekend.

Tom McCartney did get over for a consolation score, which Ronaldson converted late on but by that stage, Munster's focus was well and truly on Europe.

Scorers - Munster: Murray 2 tries, O'Shea, Conway, Earls, 1 try each, Keatley 2 pens & 4 cons. Connacht: McCartney 1 try, Carty 2 pens, Ronaldson con.

Munster: S Zebo (D Sweetnam 61); A Conway, C Farrell (B Johnston 65), R Scannell, K Earls; I Keatley, C Murray (D Williams 70); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 52), R Marshall (M Sherry 61), J Ryan (S Archer 52); J Kleyn (R Copeland 66), D O'Shea; J O'Donoghue, C Oliver, CJ Stander (capt).

Connacht: T O'Halloran; N Adeolokun (D Leader 61), E Griffin, P Ahki, M Healy; J Carty (C Ronaldson 66), C Blade (J Mitchell 68); P McCabe (C O'Donnell 75), T McCartney, C Carey (F Bealham 57); Q Roux, J Cannon (G Thornbury h-t); C Gallagher, J Butler, J Muldoon (capt) (P Boyle 57).

Referee: D Wilkinson (IRFU)

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