Planet Rugby

Howlett slips into gear for Munster

28th March 2008 21:48

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Doug Howlett scored for the second time in six days as Munster overcame stubborn resistance from Connacht to take the Magners League points with a 16-5 win at the Sportsground on Friday.

Three minutes from time, the All Black winger intercepted a pass from Connacht fly-half Andy Dunne to race over for the clinching try and push Munster up to second in the Magners League table.

Belying their position at the foot of the table, Connacht scrapped well but fell away in the final quarter with Munster able to introduce the likes of Paul O'Connell, Marcus Horan and Ronan O'Gara as substitutes.

Munster sprung a surprise by drafting Ireland flanker Denis Leamy in at inside centre and leaving Rua Tipoki, who is recovering from a back injury, on the bench ahead of next weekend's Heineken Cup quarter-final against Gloucester.

Leamy played a couple of times previously for the province at number 12 but he was used mostly as a decoy runner during a rain-hit first half.

Connacht, who had Conor McPhillips in at scrum-half for hip-injury victim Conor O'Loughlin, fell behind in the seventh minute when Paul Warwick knocked over a simple penalty.

Munster were much the sharper in the early exchanges, with David Wallace, Peter Stringer and Alan Quinlan particularly prominent.

Dunne did little for the Connacht cause when he let a drop-goal attempt screw off the outside of his right boot and the visitors got within sight of the try line minutes later.

Having made a neat break, Denis Hurley took the wrong option when passing inside in the 18th minute, with Howlett supporting him out wide.

A grubber kick from Warwick, with the Connacht defence caught flat, then had Howlett licking his lips for a try but the action was pulled back after the ball had nicked off referee Simon McDowell.

However, after Warwick watched his second penalty attempt bounce back off a post, Connacht really put their stamp on the game. Munster's play dipped before the interval and the hosts took full advantage.

After a quick turnover, some excellent continuity involving Johnny O'Connor and McPhillips led to Keith Matthews barging past Donncha O'Callaghan and the pacy Daniel Riordan pounced to score in the corner.

Dunne's missed conversion left the Westerners 5-3 ahead at half-time but Munster reasserted themselves with a successful Warwick penalty two minutes into the second half.

Dunne crept a penalty to the left of the uprights and that looked a crucial moment, particularly as a Lifeimi Mafi bust through the middle almost had Munster over for a try.

O'Gara kicked Munster into a 9-5 lead on the hour mark and Connacht botched a chance at claiming a much-needed second try.

The Westerners' pack rumbled up close to the whitewash after Gavin Duffy had kicked a penalty to touch. Yet Connacht's lack of patience and some streetwise play from Quinlan and company saw Munster hold out.

They made the game safe when Howlett hared onto Dunne's pass to score his second try in red, and with O'Gara converting, Connacht's wait for their first win over Munster since November 1986 goes on.

The scorers:

For Connacht:

Try: Riordan

For Munster:

Try: Howlett

Con: O'Gara

Pens: Warwick 2, O'Gara

Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy, 14 Matt Mostyn, 13 Mel Deane, 12 Keith Matthews, 11 D Riordan, 10 Andy Dunne, 9 Conar O'Loughlin, 8 Colm Rigney, 7 Jonny O'Connor, 6 John Muldoon, 5 Andrew Farley (C), 4 David Gannon, 3 Robbie Morris, 2 Andrew Flavin, 1 Brett Wilkinson.

Replacements: 16 John Fogarty, 17 Brian McGovern, 18 Andrew Browne, 19 Liam Casserly, 20 Connor McPhillips, 21 Troy Nathan, 22 Darren Yapp.

Munster: 15 Denis Hurley, 14 Doug Howlett, 13 Lifeimi Mafi, 12 Denis Leamy, 11 Ian Dowling, 10 Paul Warwick, 9 Peter Stringer, 8 Anthony Foley, 7 David Wallace, 6 Alan Quinlan, 5 Donnacha Ryan, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 John Hayes, 2 Jerry Flannery, 1 Tony Buckley.

Replacements: 16 Frank Sheahan, 17 Marcus Horan, 18 Paul O'Connell, 19 Mick O'Driscoll, 20 Tomas O'Leary, 21 Ronan O'Gara, 22 Rua Tipoki.

Referee: Simon McDowell (Ireland)

Touch judges: Colin Stanley (Ireland), Eanna O'Dowd (Ireland)

Television match official: Michael Black (Ireland)

Assessor: Brian Stirling (Ireland)

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