Connacht punish 14-man Munster
PRO14 REPORT: Tom Farrell’s fine solo score after Andrew Conway’s red card breathed new life into Connacht’s PRO14 campaign with a dramatic 20-16 victory over Munster.
The visitors led at the Sportsground at the break, thanks to Simon Zebo’s early score and the boot of Ian Keatley.
Tiernan O’Halloran went over the hosts – who were their own worst enemies at times in the opening stages with their attacking but error-strewn style – but they trailed 13-10 at the interval.
Jack Carty kicked the scores level soon after the restart but the game swung just after the hour mark when Conway saw red after his elbow caught Carty in the head in attempting to charge down the flyhalf’s kick.
JJ Hanrahan then put the 14-men of Munster back in front but the stage was set for Farrell who cut a fine line off Kieran Marmion from a lineout before streaking clear to the line for the pivotal score.
Munster kept pushing hard at the death but have now slipped to three defeats in their last four league games.
While Kieran Keane’s Connacht side claimed only their second win of the domestic season – and first over a fellow Irish province since October of last year.
After an unbeaten start to their European Champions Cup campaign, Munster were keen to get back to winning ways on the domestic front.
And they were helped on their way by the hosts in the early stages, multiple handling errors from Connacht in their own 22 handing Munster possession and territory.
And after four minutes the visitors struck, Connacht doing well to disrupt a five-metre scrum before coughing the ball back up to Rory Scannell and the centre’s searing carry and offload released Zebo to power over to cap an emotional week for the Ireland international.
Ian Keatley added the extras from bang in front and, despite some customary flourishes from the hosts, a penalty from the Munster fly-half then opened a 10-0 lead.
Connacht needed a response but Carty pushed a penalty wide when CJ Stander went high on Ultan Dillane.
However, they were undeterred and got a foothold when Bundee Aki – called up by Ireland this week – produced a moment of magic with a no-look pop pass on the gainline that released man of the match Jarrad Butler and the flanker had the simple task of putting O’Halloran over for a fine score.
Carty added the conversion but just after the half-hour mark, a second Keatley penalty stretched the lead back out to six at 13-7.
Still, Connacht continued to chance their arm, despite their high error count, one John Muldoon offloads defying belief before Aki again delayed a pass to release O’Halloran down the left.
And when Munster were forced to concede a five-metre scrum, the hosts won a penalty that Carty slotted to make it 13-10 at the interval.
Hanrahan was introduced at the break for Connacht and while Carty levelled the scores, the visitors appeared closest to a second try when Conway and Keith Earls both narrowly failed to get on the end of Hanrahan kicks.
Niyi Adeolokun was also on for his first game of the season, but the decisive moment came just after the hour mark.
Carty dinked over the top of the onrushing defence and before he could chase his own kick, Conway’s elbow connected with his head leaving Nigel Owens little choice but to red card the apologetic wing.
Munster re-took the lead, despite their numerical disadvantage, soon after when Hanrahan slotted a penalty but in the end, it was Farrell who lifted the Sportsground off its feet in the final ten minutes.
Quick ball off the top of a lineout saw Marmion hit Farrell in stride, the centre cutting a perfect line back against the over-chasing Munster defence – and having shrugged off Hanrahan and Dave Kilcoyne the youngster showed great speed to streak clear for the score.
Craig Ronaldson, on for Carty, slotted the extras two and Connacht were in front for the first time in the match at 20-16 with barely five minutes remaining.
But Munster summoned up one last effort until a knock on ended their hopes and Muldoon and co could celebrate a famous win.
Tries: O'Halloran, Farrell
Cons: Carty, Ronaldson
Pens: Carty 2
Pens: Keatley 2, Hanrahan
Red Card: Andrew Conway (Munster, 61)
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Darragh Leader, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Tom Farrell, 11 Cian Kelleher, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon (captain), 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 James Cannon, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Denis Coulson, 18 Conor Carey, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 Eoghan Masterson, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Craig Ronaldson, 23 Niyi Adeolokun.
Munster: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Christiaan Stander, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 5 Billy Holland, 4 Mark Flanagan, 3 John Ryan, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Kevin O’Byrne, 17 Liam O’Connor, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Sean McCarthy, 20 Jack O’Donoghue, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Darren Sweetnam.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: David Wilkinson, Frank Murphy (both Ireland)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)