Graham Rowntree grateful for Munster's Páirc pick-me-up

Munster’s willingness to play, to run rather than kick and go for seven points rather than three was rewarded with this invaluable and necessary win
Graham Rowntree grateful for Munster's Páirc pick-me-up

CROSSING THE WHITEWASH: Munster’s Craig Casey celebrates as Calvin Nash crossed the line for a try. Pic: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

United Rugby Championship

Munster 24 Connacht 17

There was no history made in Thomond Park on Saturday night, no record-breaking crowd as there had been at Pairc Ui Chaoimh 16 days before. Nor was it a statement performance as Munster just about saw off Connacht to climb up the BKT United Rugby Championship table. And yet Graham Rowntree’s side earned a victory just as, if not more, significant than their win over South Africa A.

A bonus point helped of course, delivered by tries from Calvin Nash, Roman Salanoa, John Ryan and hooker Niall Scannell, and that was the gist of the head coach’s observation at the tangible difference between the two results. Yet he also recognised the importance of his players picking up where they had left off on Leeside as Munster face into a tricky couple of months of European pool action and another couple of URC derbies.

“You get more points for it, more league points for it, so I will take that,” Rowntree said of the win over Connacht. “Unfortunately, we got no league points for South Africa, I did ask for them!

“It certainly felt like a momentum changer on the night (in Cork). Some of the guys said it was the best game they ever played in terms of atmosphere. We needed it. It was important for the club on so many fronts. It was just such an incredible night; the crowd were excellent, it is a great stadium. It was a case of maintaining momentum for this game. Tonight was not perfect but we got the win.” 

The win was all that mattered to Rowntree and to the 16,725 at Thomond Park. Yet Munster also delivered another glimpse of what potential lies within them and which Rowntree and attack coach Mike Prendergast have been attempting to tease out, as well as the actual potency of an efficient and powerful maul and maul defence.

It wasn’t perfect, as an aggressive and fired up Connacht proved, their incessant pressure led by the impressive Cian Prendergast whose harrying of Mike Haley in the Munster backfield forced a hurried pass from the full-back in the direction of Joey Carbery that Byron Ralston intercepted for the simplest of scores. The converted try countered Nash’s opening score and helped send the teams into half-time tied at 10-10, Salanoa having levelled from a lineout drive three minutes before the break.

Yet Munster’s willingness to play, to run rather than kick and go for seven points rather than three when Connacht’s ill-discipline enabled the decision was rewarded with this invaluable and necessary win.

It was Carbery’s incisive break through heavy traffic on halfway that was a turning point for the home side, the fly-half responding to the pressure being exerted by position rivals Jack Crowley and Ben Healy with a well-judged performance befitting a player with 37 Test caps to his name. He sought out the gap in the Connacht defensive line before accelerating clear and then chipping full-back John Porch, only for the defender to collide with the Munster 10. It saw Porch yellow-carded and a kickable penalty was forsaken for the corner.

Munster were initially thwarted but their lineout maul eventually pulled through again, replacement front-rower Ryan getting over the line on 59 minutes in his 199th appearance for the province having returned earlier this month on a short-term contract after the financial collapse of his new club Wasps.

Fellow front-row replacement Niall Scannell delivered the bonus point just six minutes later, Carbery claiming his first conversion of the night in a gusting wind to open a 14-point lead, which Marmion reduced six minutes from time with a try converted by captain Jack Carty.

Their director of rugby Andy Friend was left deeply disappointed by the outcome which halts Connacht’s momentum following three wins from their previous four before the November Test window. He bemoaned his team’s decision-making and failure to dominate in contact which leaves the westerners in 13th, albeit only three points adrift of Munster who climbed to eighth ahead of next week’s round nine that marks the halfway point in the regular season.

“I thought we picked a side that could definitely go toe to toe and I thought physically we did,” Friend said. “It was just some of our decisions and some of our execution. I thought we let ourselves down. At the same time, we opened up doors and Munster were good enough to take it. They’re building their season now so after that South African win that’s another win for them and you can see them growing in confidence. They’re a good side if you let them be.” 

Munster, meanwhile, will move on, momentum continued as they prepare to face Edinburgh in the Scottish capital on Friday with Rowntree applauding that growing assurance detected by Friend and which is clear in the ambition his players are displaying.

“We want to fire shots,” the Munster boss said. “You have seen that in our game throughout this season. We want to fire shots and score tries. I see a lot of teams do that. That decision making I will leave to them but there are certain times when I will come in and demand something. That states where we are going.” 

Rowntree will wait with concern for a Monday medical update after captain Peter O’Mahony was lost to an apparent broken nose late on in the first half and Haley was withdrawn for a Head Injury Assessment. There are reinforcements coming though, he added.

“Keith Earls might come in. Fineen Wycherley is not far off. A couple more this week hopefully. It's a short turnaround this week, we’ve got to manage the squad appropriately in that regard. We have got a huge game Friday night. I have got to pick the right team because we have got a few bangs. I look at Edinburgh and Glasgow’s selection this weekend, they have obviously been saving a few guys. We have got a big challenge. I will see how guys pull up Monday morning. We have to pick the right team.” 

MUNSTER: M Haley (J Crowley, 36 - HIA); C Nash, A Frisch, R Scannell, S Daly; J Carbery, C Casey; J Wycherley (J Loughman, 49), D Barron (N Scannell, 54), R Salanoa (J Ryan, 49); J Kleyn (E Edogbo, 65), T Beirne; P O’Mahony (J O’Donoghue, 42 – HIA), J Hodnett, A Kendellen (G Coombes, 54).

Replacement not used: P Patterson.

CONNACHT: J Porch; B Ralston (C Fitzgerald, 58), T Farrell, B Aki, A Wootton; J Carty – captain, C Blade (K Marmion, 64); D Buckley (P Dooley, 59), D Heffernan (S Delahunt, 64), F Bealham (J Aungier, 51); J Murphy (O Dowling, 51), G Thornbury (N Murray, 64); C Prendergast, C Oliver, J Butler (P Boyle, 51).

Yellow card: Porch 48-58.

Referee: Gianluca Gnecchi (Italy).

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