WATCH: Heroic Connacht pounce on Munster’s failings

Munster 12 Connacht 18: CONNACHT’S deserved victory over Munster in Saturday’s Guinness Pro 12 encounter at Thomond Park said as much about one side’s magnificent surge to the top of the league table as it did about the other’s demoralising failure to keep in step.
WATCH: Heroic Connacht pounce on Munster’s failings

The Connacht Clan — as the 300 supporters who braved the atrocious weather on Saturday are called — made more than one celebratory stop on their way home, after their heroes ended a 29-year run of failure in Limerick with an emphatic 18-12 victory. That keeps them atop the Pro 12 table, after eight series of matches.

Munster fans crept quietly away to salve their wounds, and to wonder how the team they have loved for so many years could have fallen so far back in terms of performance.

Munster were particularly poor in the first-half. Even though Connacht had travelled, to the venue that had treated them more harshly than any other, they had begun with a commitment and hunger that took the home-side by surprise. They dominated possession and territory and were always prepared to test the tackle, and did so with remarkable success, as was evidenced by Tiernan O’Halloran’s well-taken, but poorly defended, try, after 18 minutes.

“We didn’t have any ball to play with”, said Munster coach, Anthony Foley. “I thought they were very good in keeping the ball and playing a lot of phases. We need to get possession and control it. Someone said to me it was 80-20 (possession stats) in the first-half, and they also had massive territory, as well. When you have the wind primarily at your back, and you don’t have the ball and they’re playing the game in your half of the pitch, and to go in 10-5 down is not a good picture”.

The most disconcerting aspect of the opening 40 minutes, from a Munster perspective, was the amount of line breaks that Connacht achieved without doing anything remarkable. Before O’Halloran’s lead try, Munster had missed 15 tackles. As a consequence, they spent most of the time backpedalling, much to the delight of the large contingent of Connacht supporters in the 9,424-strong crowd. By half-time, the number of missed Munster tackles had risen to 22.

If anything, Connacht had good reason to be concerned at turning over only a mere five points in front. Ultan Dillane was just about held up over the Munster line, in the ninth minute, and when Craig Ronaldson converted O’Halloran’s try, to add to an earlier penalty, they were ten points to the good. Even when Munster mauled a line-out over the Connacht line, for a Niall Scannell try, Connacht remained on top.

Foley said that he was disgusted with that opening 40 minutes and had spoken accordingly during the interval. In fairness, the response, in the second-half, was positive, for the most part.

“We went after them in the second-half, kept the ball and went through a lot of phases. Fellas played with a lot of pace, and line-out turnovers, breakdown turnovers, we turned over four in their 22”, he said, before ruefully adding: “From there, you release the pressure valve and they get down to our end, they get a boost, a run of energy through their body and the pressure is taken off them. Losing by six points, at home, is not the result we were looking for.”

Connacht moved 13-5 ahead with a second Ronaldson penalty, before the game was turned on its head with referee, Ben Whitehouse, and TMO, Simon McDowell, agreeing that Munster would probably have scored a try when John Muldoon tackled Andrew Conway, after a lovely break by Ian Keatley had created the opportunity. The penalty try converted by Keatley cut the arrears to a point and, with Muldoon in the sin bin, Munster went for the jugular.

Instead, it was 14-man Connacht who raised their game. Rob Henshaw was a massive figure, before his class opened the way for another inspirational figure, Bundee Aki, to dive over for a clinching try in the 77th minute.

MUNSTER:

A Conway; G van den Heever, K Earls, F Saili, L Gonzalez Amorosino; I Keatley, T O’Leary; J Cronin, N Scannoll, BJ Botha, D Ryan, M Chisholm, CJ Stander, J O’Donoghue, R Copeland.

Replacements:

J Ryan for Botha (ht); D Hurley for van den Heever (50); D Foley for D Ryan (54); D Kilcoyne for Cronin (61); D Williams for O’Leary (65).

CONNACHT:

R Henshaw; T O’Halloran, B Aki, C Ronaldson, M Healy; AJ MacGinty, K Marmion; D Buckley, S Delahunt, N White, U Dillane, A Muldowney, J Muldoon capt, J Connolly, E Masterson.

Replacements:

J Carty for MacGinty (45); R Loughney for Buckley (54); F Bealham for White and S O’Brien for Masterson (both 57); D Heffernan for Delahunt (60); G Naoupu for Dillane (63); D Leader for O’Halloran (69).

Referee:

B Whitehouse (Wales).

Guinness PRO12:

Scarlets 20 Zebre 12.

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