Munster end year on top

Date published: December 31 2016

Munster moved five points clear at the PRO12 summit as they got the better of Irish rivals Connacht 16-9 at the Sportsground on Saturday.

Neither side could establish itself fully in a first-half which was made difficult for players and officials by Galway’s customary swirling wind and rain.

Two kicks from Ian Keatley sent Munster into the interval with a slim lead. A Rhys Marshall try in the second-half proved to be the decisive moment for Munster as defending champions Connacht struggled.

They were given a glimmer of hope late on as Dave Kilcoyne was sin-binned but the visitors held out to secure an impressive victory.

The win sees Munster extend their lead atop the PRO12 to five points following rivals Leinster’s earlier victory. Meanwhile, Connacht’s seventh defeat of the season keeps them in eighth place.

The first score of the match came from the boot of Munster’s Keatley after just two minutes. Munster had come flying out of the blocks and deserved an early score.

However, Connacht struck back after turning over a Munster scrum in the 29th minute. Jack Carty knocked the ball through the posts from 10 metres out to restore parity to the scoresheet.

In driving wind and rain conditions were tough for players and officials. Despite this, Keatley managed to nudge Munster into a 6-3 lead at half-time with a penalty, Duncan Williams assisting by holding the ball in place for the fly-half.

After 50 minutes, Connacht won a penalty at scrum-time in the Munster 22 and Carty was on hand to draw his side level once more with a penalty.

Munster scored the first try of the match after 56 minutes. They won a line-out from five metres out before driving in to score, Marshall the man with the ball in hand to touch down. Keatley added the extras to make the score 13-6.

The Munster fly-half added a drop-goal to his personal tally in the 68th minute to take the visitors into a commanding 10-point lead.

With 10 minutes to play, Kilcoyne was sent to the sin-bin for Munster after repeated infringements, meaning that Munster would see out the match with 14 men and a 10-point lead to defend.

Carty struck with a penalty for the home side in the 76th minute to bring them to within seven points and set up a massive push. However, Pat Lam’s side could not find the decisive score as Munster held on to win.

The scorers:

For Connacht:
Pens: Carty 3

For Munster:
Try: Marshall
Con: Keatley
Pens: Keatley 2
Drop Goal: Keatley
Yellow Cards: Kilcoyne, Williams

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Rory Parata, 12 Peter Robb, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon, 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Nepia Fox-Matamua, 5 James Cannon, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 JP Cooney, 18 John Andress, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Sean O’Brien, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Ciaran Gaffney, 23 Naulia Dawai

Munster: 15 Andrew Conway, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Dan Goggin, 11 Ronan O’Mahony, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 Billy Holland (c), 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 Jack O’Donoghue, 5 Dave Foley, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 James Cronin
Replacements: 16 Dave Kilcoyne, 17 Kevin O’Byrne, 18 Thomas Du Toit, 19 Robin Copeland, 20 Conor Oliver, 21 Te Aihe Toma, 22 Rory Scannell, 23 Jaco Taute

Referee: Dudley Phillips (IRFU)
Assistant Referees: Paul Haycock, Mark Patton (both IRFU)
TMO: Simon McDowell (IRFU)