Sunday 8 December 2019

Munster tick every box ahead of Euro mission

Connacht 23 Munster 32

Andrew Conway scores Munster's first try in the win over Connacht
Andrew Conway scores Munster's first try in the win over Connacht
Munster's Paul O'Connell is tackled by Connacht's Jason Harris-Wright
Munster's Andrew Conway is tackled by Connacht's Matt Healy and Robbie Henshaw
Munster's Tommy O'Donnell, supported by team-mate Billy Holland, is tackled by Connacht's John Muldoon

Declan Rooney

Munster returned to second place in the Pro12 standings with a bonus-point win in Galway, but a clean bill of health will please coach Rob Penney just as much ahead of their Heineken Cup semi-final next weekend.

Tries from Andrew Conway, Gerhard van den Heever, Denis Hurley and Paddy Butler eased the Reds to victory, while a late outing for Conor Murray at outhalf was another box ticked ahead of the clash with Toulon.

But it was the home side who took the lead in the 15th minute after a Connacht jumper was taken out in the air on Munster's ball and Miah Nikora slotted the tricky kick.

Munster hit back straight from the restart. The returning Willie Faloon knocked on Ian Keatley's kick and from the resultant scrum Duncan Williams drew the cover and sent Conway through a gaping hole with an inside pass.

Connacht were not alone in erring from a restart as, following Butler's knock-on, the hosts bagged their first try off a scrum. A solid shove from Ronan Loughney meant the Munster defence struggled to cover across, and a sweet, flat skip pass from Eoin Griffin sent Matt Healy in for a simple score to put the Westerners 8-7 ahead.

Keatley, returning to his old Sportsground stomping ground, kicked two penalties in the 25th and 28th minutes to edge Munster into a 13-8 advantage. After such a tight opening half-hour Munster took control before the break and hit Connacht with a double sucker punch as both tries arrived with Connacht battering the Munster 22.

Their second, six minutes from the break, went to Van den Heever, who intercepted Robbie Henshaw's pass to canter home from his own half, and Munster's third went to Hurley, who was sent on his way by Williams, who had gathered his own deft chip over the rushing Connacht defence.

Keatley, who kicked splendidly, slotted both simple conversions as Munster took a 27-8 lead into the interval.

Pat Lam was the first coach to shift from his initial side and made three early changes, one of whom, Conor Gilsenan, was involved in Connacht second try after 54 minutes, when he combined with Nikora to send Eoin McKeon over in the left corner as Connacht closed the gap to 27-13.

The conversion was off the mark from Nikora, but in his first start for 15 months, he did reduce Munster's lead to 11 points 17 minutes from time, when Munster were penalised for entering a ruck from the side.

Munster continued their quest for the fourth try and seven minutes from time their persistence paid off as No 8 Butler burrowed over from a yard. In the build-up Dave Kilcoyne and CJ Stander came desperately close as the Connacht defence held solid through the phases, only for Butler to get across the whitewash.

Connacht got a late consolation when Poolman cantered in from halfway when he intercepted a floated Munster pass.

Scorers – Munster: A Conway, G van den Heever, D Hurley, P Butler try each; I Keatley 2 pens, 3 cons. Connacht: M Healy, E McKeon, D Poolman try each; M Nikora 2 pens; D Parks con.

Connacht: D Leader (D McSharry 52); D Poolman, R Henshaw, E Griffin, M Healy; M Nikora (D Parks 70), K Marmion (F Murphy 76); R Loughney (D Buckley 58), J Harris-Wright (J Dinneen 73), R Ah You (F Bealham 74); M Kearney, A Browne; J Muldoon, W Faloon (C Gilsenan 49), E McKeon (A Muldowney 54).

Munster: D Hurley (R O'Mahony 73); G van den Heever, J Murphy, J Downey, A Conway; I Keatley (C Murray 74), D Williams (G Hurley 74); D Kilcoyne (A Cotter 76), D Varley (Q MacDonald 70), J Ryan; D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell (B Holland 73); CJ Stander, S Dougall (T O'Donnell 60), P Butler.

Referee: M Mitrea (FIR)

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