Munster 24 Connacht 9
John Hayes enjoyed a winning send-off in Munster colours as they earned their sixth successive victory over Connacht in the RaboDirect PRO12.
After 14 years and 217 appearances for the province and an enviable collection of European and domestic honours, the ’Bull’ bowed out in fitting circumstances at Thomond Park.
First half tries from debutant full-back Sean Scanlon and Tomas O’Leary set Munster on their way to an 18-3 interval lead, with Niall O’Connor kicking Connacht’s points.
This was a niggly inter-provincial affair beset by scrum problems and with try-scoring chances at a premium, so two more penalties from Ian Keatley was enough to seal the result.
Keatley missed two early shots at the posts, the second opportunity coming after Marcus Horan had won a scrum penalty at the expense of Ronan Loughney.
Neither side played with any particular cohesion and accuracy until Luke O’Dea scrambled into the Connacht 22 and Keith Earls was driven forward after taking contact.
The resulting penalty was fired over by Keatley, 17 minutes in, and a smashing counter-attack from Scanlon almost set up the Munster out-half for the opening try.
With the try-line at his mercy and John Muldoon breathing down his neck, Keatley fumbled Scanlon’s clever dink forward.
A second successful penalty made up in some part for the missed chance.
Connacht regrouped and it was soon the turn of the impressive Tiernan O’Halloran and Eoin Griffin to threaten.
O’Connor thumped over a long range penalty to get the visitors off the mark.
But O’Connor coughed up possession two minutes later in a move which led to the opening try.
Paddy Butler blocked a pass in midfield and Munster swarmed out to the right where Earls cleverly put O’Dea into space and his neat delivery sent Scanlon over unopposed.
Keatley landed the conversion and his half-back partner O’Leary struck for the second try five minutes before the break.
The Ireland scrum half gobbled up Ethienne Reynecke’s throw to the back of a lineout and launched a kick chase into the left corner.
Fetu’u Vainikolo was first on the scene but he could not get a grasp of the bouncing ball, leaving O’Leary to snipe in for the score.
Missed kicks followed from Keatley and O’Connor, the latter drawing a kickable penalty to the left and wide after Horan had taken out Johnny O’Connor.
Into the second half, O’Connor missed a similar effort before splitting the posts for an 18-6 scoreline.
Keatley then took his own tally to 11 points and although Connacht remained competitive, this stop-start game remained largely in Munster’s control.
The place-kickers swapped penalties again before Hayes was withdrawn in the 59th minute to tumultuous applause, the unassuming prop smiling on the sidelines after a great reception from the 15,283-strong crowd.
A yellow card for Donncha O’Callaghan following repeated infringements left the door slightly ajar for a Connacht comeback and with O’Halloran, John Muldoon and George Naoupu to the fore, they started to force the issue.
However, both Griffin and Naoupu were held up short of the Munster line and O’Connor suffered a third penalty miss as the hosts’ long-serving tighthead signed off with a final home win.