MUNSTER’S youngsters once again demonstrated at Thomond Park last night that they have the capacity to step into the illustrious shoes of their predecessors, when defeating Connacht 28-11 in an entertaining and enlightening A Interprovincial game.
It was a cold and wet night, but both sides rose above the unpleasant conditions in impressive fashion. Munster coaches Anthony Foley and Ian Costello had good reason to be happy with their team’s performance, and they will now prepare in confident frame of mind for their British & Irish Cup clash with Nottingham in Waterford next Friday.
They have won both their outings in that competition so far, while this was their fourth victory from as many games in the domestic competition. Those who claim that Munster are short of talent to replace some of the long-serving stars now in the twilights of distinguished careers may be forced to think again.
Out-half Declan Cusack had a fine match, while skipper Peter O’Mahony led the pack by example, adding further to his burgeoning reputation, and the watching Munster senior coach Tony McGahan would also have noted the excellent contributions of powerful young prop Stephen Archer and second-half replacements Billy Holland and Conor Murray.
“We gave away a lot of penalties in the first half; we simply couldn’t gain any kind of possession,” acknowledged Foley as he reflected on his team’s slow start. “We got one lovely try from the one decent bit of ball we won. But we went on to dominate the second half, proving once again that in this game, possession is all-important.
“The lads are gaining a lot of experience from the A Interpros and the British & Irish Cup and will get a lot of attention from these games. We have some humdingers of matches when the As take on the seniors during our squad sessions so they’re not short of self belief.”
Connacht, for their part, added to the positive aspects of the game with a whole-hearted performance that was rewarded with a well-taken try by number eight Mike McComish just before the end.
The highlight of the first half was a superb Munster try midway through. The pack drove into the right corner, and released quick ball for Cusack to find Tom Gleeson who, under strong pressure from the alert Connacht defence, had the presence of mind to flick the ball on quickly to Danny Barnes, who cut back in to score.
Connacht had opened the brighter of the two sides, and out-half Miah Nikora put over a couple of penalties which, however, were equalised by Cusack as Munster came more and more into the game.
The Thomond number ten found the target once again to stretch the Munster advantage to 14-6. But Connacht were winning ample possession from the forward exchanges, and had a good chance of narrowing the gap when Munster flanker Dave Sherry was yellow-carded by referee Leo Colgan on 36 minutes. But Nikora missed the resultant shot at goal.
The early stages of the second half were dominated by Munster, but it wasn’t until a three-man substitution on 50 minutes that they really began to pile on the pressure. Dolphin’s Dave Ryan, making his first appearance since suffering a serious elbow injury three months or so ago, celebrated his return with a try that Cusack converted to push the home side 21-6 ahead.
It didn’t help Connacht’s cause when Munster continued to empty their bench, the strength in depth amply demonstrated when the newly-arrived Billy Holland brilliantly off-loaded to send O’Mahony over for another try to which Cusack again added the points. McComish struck late on with the well-merited Connacht try.
MUNSTER A: D Riordan; C O’Boyle, D Barnes, T Gleeson, R O’Mahony; D Cusack, P Rowley; D Ryan, S Henry, S Archer, E Kelly, D Foley, D Sherry, E Grace, P O’Mahony (capt).
Replacements: T O’Donnell for Grace (12, inj); C Murray, D Varley and S Scanlon for Rowley, Henry and O’Mahony (all 50); B Holland for Sherry (60); S Duggan, I Dineen and M Kelliher for Foley, Gleeson and O’Boyle, (all 65); P O’Regan for Ryan (70).
CONNACHT A: T O’Halloran; F Gormley, B Tuohy, A Wynne, C O’Loughlin; M Nikora, A Kennedy; C Higgins, D Murphy, J Hagan, L Scahill, S Casey, E McKeon, JO’Connor, M McComish.
Replacements: A Flavin and M Dolan for Murphy and Kennedy, (both 55); J Moran for Scahill (60); D Clarke for O’Halloran (61);J Robinson for Hagan (65); C Murphy and C Conroy for O’Connor and Nikora (both 74).
Referee: L Colgan (Munster)
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