Munster 39 Connacht 13: Munster regained a lot of the momentum that had been eroded by two poor and frustrating performances againt Leinster and Ulster when easily disposing of an understrength Connacht side in Saturday night’s Guinness Pro 14 game at Thomond Park.
Even so, Racing 92, their opponents in next Sunday’s all-important European Champions Cup game in Paris, will hardly be quaking in their boots having perused the video and Munster supporters will be reassured to learn that head coach Johann van Graan places little or no significance in the result with the next couple of weeks in mind.
Whereas Connacht travelled to Limerick without half their best side, Munster will almost certainly make no more than three changes for Racing with skipper Peter O’Mahony and Chris Cloete returning at wing-forward and Billy Holland in the second-row. Even then man of the match Conor Oliver performed so effectively that he may well challenge Cloete at 7 and the towering Darren O’Shea continues to display such potential in the engine room that even the ever reliable Holland could come under pressure.
That leaves Johann van Graan with the kind of selection dilemmas that any coach likes to have. While he has taken a deal of reassurance from Saturday’s result after what had gone before in the previous two weeks, the South African isn’t under any illusions.
“This game in terms of the bigger picture is a thing of the past now and I don’t think it will have any bearing on next Sunday at all,” he declared. “Europe is a totally different competition. We’re playing against a team that has a different complexity about them. They play a game totally different to what we faced over the past few weeks. To win in France against top quality opposition, we will need an eighty minute performance from all 23 players.”
One of the brightest aspects of Saturday’s game for Munster was the successful return of Chris Farrell in the centre. The position was approaching crisis time due to injuries and suspensions but the big Ulsterman demonstrated that he was back to full fitness as he used his formidable physique at close quarters while also displaying some delightful touches in attack.
“This was the first training week that I worked with Chris,” said van Graan. “He’s a fantastic player and a fantastic prospect and I think his future is very bright. He gave us momentum and when he went into contact, you looked for his offloading game and hopefully that’s something we can exploit in the future. He brings a bit of calm – and he’s big so it’s nice to have him there at 13.”
The vexed question of indiscipline inevitably raised its head in the aftermath of the game. Johann van Graan was clearly unhappy at the concession of eight penalties in the first half but whatever was said in the dressing room during the half time break, everything improved out of all recognition on the turnover with referee David Wilkinson happy to see them sail through the period without punishment.
“This was the third game out of four when we conceded a penalty in the first minute”, noted van Graan. “We gave away three at scrum time but I thought we adapted well to the referee after he called in both captains, especially at break down time. You watch for certain trends and we said, we’ve got to stay out of the break down in term of contesting. That means you can have more numbers on their feet and increase your line speed and I thought we put their attack under quite a bit of pressure. CJ did very well captaining in the side, a very good performance by him.”
Van Graan was also delighted with Keith Earls, whose footwork and instant change of direction on a number of occasions suggested he was back to his very impressive early season form. He was rewarded with a cracking try set up by Andrew Conway. It was the best of Munster’s five whereas the once again hugely influential Conor Murray hardly had to move more than a metre or so for his two when Connacht had Quinn Roux in the sin bin. Darren O’Shea scored Munster’s only first half try while a fortunate roll of the ball enabled Conway to beat Tiernan O’Halloran for the touchdown after a nice kick through by Ian Keatley who completed the tally with two penalties and four conversions.
Connacht were never less than enterprising and were rewarded with the last score of the game, a try by hooker Tom McCartney converted by replacement Craig Ronaldson while Jack Carty also kicked two first half penalties.
S Zebo; A Conway, C Farrell, R Scannell, K Earls; I Keatley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, R Marshall, J Ryan, J Kleyn, D O’Shea, J O’Donoghue, C Oliver, CJ Stander capt. Replacemens: S Archer for Ryan 51; M Sherry and D Sweetnam for Marshall and Zebo, both 60; B Johnston for Farrell 63; R Copeland for Kleyn 66; D Williams for Murray 70.
T O’Halloran; N Adeolokun, E Griffin, P Ahki, M Healy; J Carty, C Blade; P McCabe, T McCartney, C Carey, Q Roux, J Cannon, C Gallagher, J Butler, J Muldoon capt. Replacements: G Thornbury for Cannon half time; F Bealham and P Boyle for Carey and Muldoon, both 57; D Leader for Adeolokun 62; C Ronaldson and J Mitchell for Carty and Blade, both 62; C O’Donnell 75.
David Wilkinson (Ulster).
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