Munster 20 Connacht 24
There is no good time to lose a game but Munster sure picked a particularly bad one.
News earlier that the Rainbow Cup final would feature the best of the South African franchises confirmed that only one side from the ‘northern’ conference would be togging out on June 19 at a venue yet to be confirmed.
A third win from three here would have put Johann van Graan’s men in pole position. Instead, they find themselves subsumed into the pack on the back of a filthy Friday evening in Limerick that frustrated in more ways than one.
“We as a club are not going to talk about a final,” said the Munster boss. “We are just thinking about performance, which was not good enough on the evening. We will keep backing our squad and will keep making changes over the next two games and if we are there in the end, that will be great.”
The weather didn’t make things easy.
Neither did 23 penalties shared almost evenly but CJ Stander fumed at the performance of the referee Dan Jones afterwards when he told eir Sport that it had felt like “playing against more than 15 men”, adding “I can say it now I’m done but it’s difficult for both sides.”
The Ireland back row referenced a “number of calls” and two disallowed tries. The first was a Peter O’Mahony score five minutes after the break that was crossed off for obstruction. The second, claimed by Andrew Conway 10 minutes from time, fell foul of a knock-on.
A busy night for the TMO, if nothing else, but any bitterness must be mixed with guilt given the concession of two wincingly soft tries at the start of each half which breathed fire into Connacht bellies after the visitors’ heavy home defeat to Leinster last week.
James Cronin had just claimed the first of the game’s five tries for the hosts when the restart evaded the airborne Billy Holland, slipped through Shane Daly’s fingers and fell to Sam Arnold who made a beeline for the corner.
The second emanated from a lose Craig Casey pass in midfield, Shane Delahunt and Cian Prendergast booting on the loose ball onwards and Kieran Marmion winning the chase and profiting from the bouncing ball to touch down.
Add a superb Conor Fitzgerald try to the mix and Connacht had plenty to work with despite conceding 61% possession and 66% territory to a home team that emptied a star-studded bench but whose second try, from Rhys Marshall before half-time, was to be their last.
“Look, we got over the line but we could not get the points,” said van Graan. “It was two evenly-matched teams but they had a strong bench as well.
“When the rain came it took away a lot of continuity in the game.
“It became a tactical game and I said to the guys we played in the right areas of the pitch, and we just couldn’t score a try at the end. You have got to take that on the chin. We have to review that and move on.”
For Connacht, it was one of the great nights: The first time they have beaten all of the other provinces away from home in the one season; the first win over Munster under Andy Friend’s watch; and a victory that gives them a shot at the decider.
“That’s the best I’ve seen us play for 80 minutes,” said the Connacht head man.
“Listen, there were a few rockets placed up peoples’ backsides (after the Leinster loss) but that’s the response you want.”
MUNSTER: M Gallagher; A Conway, D Goggin, D de Allende, S Daly; B Healy, C Casey; J Cronin, R Marshall, J Ryan; J Kleyn, B Holland; J O’Donoghue, P O’Mahony, CJ Stander.
Replacements: C Murray for Casey (blood, 14-28 and 52); T Beirne for Holland (52); D Kilcoyne for Cronin and S Archer for Ryan (both 59); N Scannell for Marshall (60); J Carbery for Healy (63); K Earls for Gallagher (71); F Wycherley for Kleyn (78).
CONNACHT: J Porch; S Arnold, S O’Brien, T Daly, A Wootton; C Fitzgerald, K Marmion; P McAllister, S Delahunt, D Robertson-McCoy; N Murray, U Dillane; C Prendergast, C Oliver, A Papali’i.
Replacements: D Buckley for McAllister (9-16 and 39); F Bealham for Robertson-McCoy (39); S Masterson for Oliver (47); J Carty for Fitzgerald (54); D Heffernan for Delahunt (56); C Blade for Marmion (66); E Masterson for Papali’I and P O’Sullivan for Arnold (both 71).
Referee: D Jones (WRU).