The writing was on the wall for Connacht when former Munster flanker Conor Oliver was sin-binned after just seven minutes and the Reds took full advantage by scoring 14 points without reply in his absence. The subsequent red cards for Connacht’s Abraham Papali’i and Shane Delahunt before half-time were too much of a mountain to climb as Munster racked up the tries to reach the Guinness PRO14 semi-finals.
Whatever Munster’s expectations of the performance required to reach the last four on Sunday, they can’t have imagined victory handed to them on a plate the way Connacht did with two acts of dangerous play in the first half. Just as well for the men in red with just five days to recover and then get ready for another meeting with Leinster in next Friday’s semi-final.
Munster look to be coming to the boil nicely ahead of the play-offs with half-backs Conor Murray and JJ Hanrahan putting in solid performances and Damian de Allende warming to his new team-mates with a more influential outing at inside centre and Andrew Conway scoring two tries for the second week running. Yet a try-scoring man of the match performance from Tadhg Beirne on his first game back from an ankle fracture last December will have been a big boost for Johann van Graan, particularly in the absence of injured locks RG Snyman and Jean Kleyn.
Frank Murphy cannot have had a busier first 40 minutes in his refereeing career, sending Connacht’s former Munster back-row Conor Oliver to the bin on seven minutes and then awarding the Reds a penalty try. Connacht were further penalised when Murphy dismissed two of their number, both red cards for dangerous high tackles, debutant No.8 Abraham Papali’i with a shoulder to Conor Murray’s neck and then hooker Shane Delahunt for a forearm into CJ Stander’s neck. Munster were not spared either, losing both Peter O’Mahony and Tadhg Beirne to yellow cards in first-half injury time for breakdown offences on their line as the game started the second half 13 v 13 with a penalty count at 10-12.
The second half was a cakewalk by comparison but the penalty counts remain high since the restart.
Munster 17 Connacht 18
Connacht lost full-back Tiernan O’Halloran following a heavy blow in contact after 24 minutes while fly-half Conor Fitzgerald did not return from a 65th minute Head Injury Assessment. Munster had used all their replacements when Damian de Allende was withdrawn in the 72nd minute though that may have been precautionary given the short turnaround to next weekend’s semi-final.
Connacht’s race is run for this extended 2019-20 campaign as they finish fourth in PRO14 Conference B, missing out on the play-offs but assured of a place in next season’s Heineken Champions Cup. Munster, though, are into the play-offs but with just five days to prepare for a semi-final against Leinster, their third last-four meeting in as many seasons.