Munster weather Connacht storm
Connacht Tries: Cons: Pens: Munster Tries: Cons: Pens: 16 20
MUNSTER WARMED up for their little tête-à-tête with Leinster next Saturday by reclaiming second place behind the leaders and in the process narrowed their leeway to eight points. They did so by weathering a high-octane Connacht storm with the kind of opportunist, smash-and-grab away win which was another statement of their strength in depth.
Even without five of their halfdozen Irish contingent, the impact of their three forward replacements – Marcus Horan, Mike Sherry and Tommy O’donnell – was a key factor. The latter was a pre-planned half-time replacement for David Wallace, and as well as their rested quintet and forwards coach Anthony Foley all returning this week, afterwards coach Tony Mcgahan intimated that Conor Murray may be closer to match fitness than Paul O’connell.
“Paul is still making solid progress and Conor is in the same boat, so we’ll get a bit more of a read on them on Monday and Tuesday,” he said, before adding: “Paul is doubtful.”
No less than this affair, the summit meeting between Heineken Cup and Pro12 reigning champions should also be a useful way of fast-tracking their readiness for the Euro quarter-finals a week later.
Mcgahan conceded Munster didn’t match Connacht’s intensity in the first half here, and that they had to make their line speed sharper and straighter in defence.
“They’re a very good side. Their consistency and the hardness with which they play has been terrific. We certainly knew that coming here and the way we defended at the back end of the game was a wonderful way to finish.”
The Sportsground, with its superb playing top, looked resplendent, with a record 7,022 attendance.
“We were the better team in the first half, and we were certainly the better team for most of the game,” said Eric Elwood, “but any team would be disappointed with the two system errors we had in defence which cost us 14 points.”
Gavin Duffy was again immense at the back, John Muldoon, Ray Ofisa et al led the charge up front, Frank Murphy gave a masterclass in passing as, for long stretches of this match they took the game to Munster. Their performance reached its zenith in the second quarter when a clever lineout move saw Murphy pop a reverse pass for Kyle Tonetti to ghost through. Mick O’driscoll was binned for holding back Ethiene Reynecke and their chance appeared to be gone when Henry Fa’afili’s under-arm pass then failed to find the hooker before Reynecke was at the sharp end of a superbly sustained mauling try.
But thereafter, for all their huffing and puffing, they couldn’t blow down Munster’s defence. There was a battle royal in timeconsuming, poorly controlled scrums, where Brett Wilkinson and Ronan Loughney put it up to their more celebrated South African opponents, but machismo perhaps got the better part of valour when Connacht opted for another scrum from an indirect