Munster secure victory after thrilling Connacht comeback in Galway
CONNACHT 10-16 MUNSTER
Late, late drama at The Sportsground, but Munster held on for a Conference-defining victory.
With three minutes to go, in Galway, Munster were set for an eight-point win over Connacht, but the hosts scored a converted try and almost had a stunning matchwinner before Billy Holland stepped up with a big tackle.
The Guinness PRO14 Conference B leaders went into the away date with a much-strengthened XV from the one that lost - but came away with a bonus point - their Belfast clash with Ulster.
After Jack Carty missed a relatively simple penalty to put his side ahead, Munster lost Jean Kleyn to what looked like a shoulder injury after his tackle forced an Ultan Dillane knock-on.
Fineen Wycherley entered the fray, for Kleyn, and he seamlessly fit into a forward pack that was steadily coming into the contest. CJ Stander was proving a nuisance around the breakdown while Tadhg Beirne was winning turnover after turnover.
That Munster pack were instrumental in the opening try of the game, as Peter O'Mahony did well to take the ball at the back of an attacking lineout inside the Connacht 22. Munster's rolling maul was a joy to behold and, as bodies were sucked in to plug gaps, there were gaps out wide. Conor Murray found Chris Farrell and the big centre did the rest.
Munster's maul does the damage 💪 💪
Chris Farrell does the rest 👏pic.twitter.com/qpQntgzXoA
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) January 9, 2021
JJ Hanrahan and Jack Carty traded penalties and it was 10-3 at the break to the visitors. Connacht may have hoped for Munster to relent in the second half but they were in more of the same. Any time the home side put a couple of good phases together, a man in red would step up with a shuddering tackle or big turnover.
Beirne continued to have his way, with that strong jackaling style of his, while Gavin Coombes came to the fore. Connacht continued to battle manfully but Munster were doing enough to keep them at arm's length.
That was until the 78th minute, when Johann van Graan's men went down to 14 men (Rory Scannell was sin-binned) and Peter O'Sullivan scored out wide. Jack Carty nailed a touchline conversion to ensure Connacht at least took a losing bonus point from a great contest at The Sportsground.
Beirne erred in conceding a penalty after Munster kicked off and Connacht marched up the pitch after a fine Carty kick to touch. Two marvellous Ultan Dillane carries put Andy Friend's side to within inches of the tryline and scrumhalf Nick McCarthy was also sent to the sin-bin. Munster were now down to 13 men.
Connacht went through nine phases, off an attacking scrum, but Holland nailed O'Sullivan with a momentum-swinging tackle and when Carty was denied with a carry, the penalty went Munster's way and it was game over. They are now nine points clear of their inter-pro rivals in Conference B.
OUR MAN OF THE MATCH: Tadhg Beirne