Connacht 23 Munster 32
Munster warmed up for their Heineken Cup semi-final against Toulon with a bonus-point 32-23 victory over provincial rivals Connacht.
Andrew Conway, Gerhard van den Heever, Denis Hurley and man of the match Paddy Butler all touched down at the Sportsground as Munster moved back into second place in the RaboDirect PRO12.
Rob Penney’s men established a flattering 27-8 half-time lead, squeezing in two late tries from a Van den Heever intercept and Hurley’s breakaway score via a cheap Connacht turnover.
The hosts had led 8-7 early on with a neat back-line move sending Matt Healy over in the left corner in response to Conway’s 17th-minute opener.
Eoin McKeon and Danie Poolman crossed for Connacht in a scrappy second half, but in between Butler burrowed over in the 72nd minute.
An eye-catching charge from prop David Kilcoyne initially got the Munster attack in motion and the impressive Conway twice had to be closed down on his right wing.
Paul O’Connell was prominent up front but, despite their lion’s share of possession, Munster fell behind in the 15th minute when Miah Nikora left-footed a long-range penalty through the posts.
Poor defending from Connacht allowed Munster to hit back just over a minute later. An 8-9 move from a scrum saw Duncan Williams feed Conway on an angled run and he slipped by Willie Faloon to race in under the posts.
After Ian Keatley converted, Connacht returned the favour in scoring off set-piece ball. They swung scrum possession wide to the left, using two decoy runners in the middle, as crisp passes from Eoin Griffin and Darragh Leader released winger Healy for the corner.
The try went unconverted and the tit-for-tat scoring continued as Keatley clipped over two successive penalties, punishing Faloon for not rolling away and then rewarding an advancing Munster scrum.
Leader and Robbie Henshaw took up the baton for Connacht, both carrying forcefully before Nikora’s cross-field kick almost led to a try for leaping winger Poolman.
Munster struck a killer blow five minutes before the break, though, as Van den Heever gobbled up Henshaw’s pass to run in an intercept effort from the 10-metre line.
Connacht were desperately unlucky to leak a third try in the 38th minute, the match officials missing James Downey’s high no-arms tackle on Poolman and turnover ball saw Williams collect his own chip and send Hurley sprinting away for another seven-pointer.
CJ Stander was adjudged to have lost the ball forward as Munster pressed for the opening try of the second half, which Connacht eventually scored in the 53rd minute.
Number eight McKeon was sent over in the left corner by league debutant Conor Gilsenan following some patient build-up play.
The westerners reduced the arrears to 27-16 thanks to a Nikora penalty as Munster butchered a couple of opportunities from close-in lineouts.
Henshaw and Poolman scrambled well to deny Conway in the left corner, however the visitors made certain of their five-point return when Donncha O’Callaghan won a turnover on the deck and number eight Butler muscled over from a ruck.
Munster emptied their bench with Conor Murray getting some game-time in the out-half position, with their usual back-up number 10 JJ Hanrahan currently nursing a groin injury.
Connacht gained some late consolation when Poolman picked off a loose pass and cantered clear for a deserved score which Dan Parks converted.