Jack O’Donoughe’s first-half try and a perfect kicking performance from JJ Hanrahan gave Munster the honours in this feisty inter-pro, which saw them stretch their lead at the top of the PRO14 Conference B standings.
A sell-out Sportsground was lifted in the closing stages when Jack Carty barged over for a try to cut the deficit to five points, but the home side had to be satisfied with a losing bonus point after a pulsating encounter.
The early hits were ferocious at the Sportsground, but the first points didn’t arrive until the ninth minute when Gavin Coombes’s tackle on Caolin Blade forced a penalty, which allowed Hanrahan to put Munster 3-0 ahead from the tee.
Coombes had made a huge impact in those early exchanges but he was forced off shortly afterwards through injury, with Jack O’Donoghue coming on in his place.
There was plenty of bring moments from Connacht in those early stages. Winning his 100th Connacht cap Quinn Roux was a powerful ball carrier, while fresh from his Ireland call up during the week Dave Heffernan made 15 tackles in that first half.
Former Munster academy player Conor Fitzgerald got Connacht on the board with a 17th minute penalty, but their visitors hit back straight away when Tom Daly’s was penalised for a high tackle and Hanrahan kicked the points.
The big score of the first half came 15 minutes from the interval, with replacement O’Donoghue earning a try from his double effort close to the line. Hanrahan’s conversion from beside the posts gave Munster a 13-3 lead.
In his first game since the world cup Dave Kilcoyne was penalised for failing to roll away from the tackle after 29 minutes and Fitzgerald kicked his third penalty for Connacht, but Hanrahan hit back three minutes later to restore Munster’s ten-point cushion.
Heffernan was a huge force in defence for Connacht but he showed his playmaking prowess just before the interval when he freed John Porch with an inside pass, which led to the concession of a penalty by O’Donoghue. Fitzgerald made it 16-9 at half-time.
With just one point separating the sides at the top of the table before kick-off Connacht knew the importance of gaining any points from this game, but Munster restored their double digit lead four minutes after the interval. Tiernan O’Halloran was penalised at the breakdown and Hanrahan maintained his perfect record from the tee.
Munster were very efficient in attack and seemed to leave with points most times they approached the Connacht 22, but in defence they were outstanding. O’Donoghue delivered a trademark turnover from a Connacht driving lineout and a super clearance kick from Dan Goggin brought the game from one end to the other.
Connacht continued to create chances but were unable to finish them. They were penalised for offside at a driving maul, and a few minutes later a great break from Kyle Godwin came to nothing when he ignored the inside pass to Blade in favour of the kick through, and Connacht were then penalised at the breakdown that followed.
Finally Connacht’s territorial pressure told seven minutes from time when Blade and Carty linked up after another Connacht maul in the corner, but Carty’s sideline conversion was off target and Munster’s lead was five points.
Munster showed impressive ball retention to roll a handful of minutes off the clock, and despite getting one final shot at entering Munster’s half in search of the win, Connacht couldn’t find a way through.
J Carty try, C Fitzgerald 3 pens
J O’Donoghue try; JJ Hanrahan 4 pens, con
T O’Halloran; J Porch, T Daly, B Aki, K Godwin; C Fitzgerald, C Blade; D Buckley, D Heffernan, F Bealham; U Dillane, Q Roux; E Masterson, P Boyle, E McKeon.
S Fitzgerald for O’Halloran (55), D Roberston McCoy for Bealham (59), S Delahunt for Heffernan (59), J Carty for C Fitzgerald (60), R Copeland for Masterson (61), C Kenny for Buckley (71), J Maksymiw for Roux (72), S Kerins for Blade (73).
S Daly; C Nash, C Farrell, D Goggin, L Coombes; JJ Hanrahan, C Casey; D Kilcoyne, K O’Byrne, S Archer; J Kleyn, B Holland; G Coombes, C Cloete, CJ Stander.
J O’Donoghue for G Coombes (10), J Loughman for Kilcoyne (51), S Arnold for Daly (59), K Knox for Archer (64), N Cronin for Casey (64), F Wycherley for Kleyn (71).
Andrew Brace (IRFU).