Hanrahan cements Munster's top spot
Fri, 27 Dec 2013 21:43
JJ Hanrahan was the sole survivor from Munster's victory over Scarlets last time out and it was easy to see why as the flyhalf scored all of his side's points in a 22-16 victory over Connacht.
Despite beating Scarlets 16-10 in Cork on Saturday to stay top of the Pro12 table, head coach Rob Penney opted for 14 changes for the visit of Connacht.
But it was the one man to retain his place that proved to be the difference-marker as Hanrahan racked up a try, a conversion and five penalties to see Munster home.
As for Connacht, they momentarily lead after quarter of an hour thanks to two Dan Parks penalties but it never looked like they would record a first Pro12 away victory since April.
Although Dave Heffernan's last-gasp try saw Parks hold his nerve with the conversion to earn the visitors a hard-fought losing bonus point.
With rain and blustery wind welcoming the players out at Thomond Park the game took a little while to get off the ground.
But after eight minutes Munster had the first points on the board as Hanrahan negotiated the tricky conditions to send over his first penalty of the night.
However after 15 minutes it was Connacht were had their noses in front as Hanrahan's opposite number Parks send over two quickfire penalties of his own.
But on 19 minutes Munster grabbed the first try of the game as Johnny Murphy collected a poor kick before handing over to centre James Downey who break down the left.
Connacht regrouped to hold firm but Munster were patient and after several rucks the ball found its way to Hanrahan who spotted a gap and darted through before dusting himself off to add the extras.
It was all Hanrahan at this point and ten minutes later he nearly had a second try as he intercepted the ball and sped towards Connacht's tryline.
However the visitors managed to track him down and Hanrahan had to settle for a penalty after he was on the end of a high tackle.
Connacht went into the interval 13-6 behind but things went from bad to worse almost immediately after the restart as Frank Murphy was sin-binned for pulling back James Cronin with no ball.
This brought up Hanrahan who fired over his first points of the second half.
Connacht were then reduced to 13 men as Nathan White was shown a yellow card following an altercation, but Munster were also made a man lighter as Cronin followed him off the pitch for a ten minute spell for his part in the bust up.
After calm had descended Hanrahan stepped up to send another three-pointer through the posts.
It took Connacht until the hour mark to reply, Parks kicking his third penalty of the clash.
With the rain coming down again Munster opted to keep the ball tight in hand in the closing stages and phase after phase saw them edge closer to the Connacht tryline on 75 minutes.
CJ Stander thought he had gone over for another try but it wasn't to be and Munster had to settle for another Hanrahan penalty.
To Connacht's credit they fought right until the end and with time up several phases of play saw Heffernan go over and Parks add the extras to earn his side a losing bonus point.
Pens: Hanrahan 5
Pens: Parks 3
Yellow cards: Frank Murphy (Connacht, 43), James Cronin (Munster, 49), Nathan White (Connacht, 49)
Munster: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Johne Murphy, 12 James Downey, 11 Ronan O'Mahony, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 James Coughlan (captain), 7 Sean Dougall, 6 Paddy Butler, 5 Dave Foley, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 John Ryan, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 James Cronin.
Replacements: 16 Damian Varley, 17 Alan Cotter, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Billy Holland, 20 CJ Stander, 21 Gerry Hurley, 22 Johnny Holland, 23 Denis Hurley.
Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy, 14 Fionn Carr, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Eoin Griffin, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Frank Murphy, 8 Eoin McKeon, 7 John Muldoon, 6 Andrew Browne, 5 Craig Clarke (captain), 4 Mick Kearney, 3 Nathan White, 2 Jason Harris-Wright, 1 Brett Wilkinson.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Aly Muldowney, 20 George Naoupu, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Darragh Leader.
Referee: Dudley Phillips (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Sean Gallagher, Eanna O'Dowd (both Ireland)
TMO: Alan Rogan (Ireland)
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