MUNSTER 20 CONNACHT 18
rom villain to hero in the space of 10 minutes; Joey Carbery saved his own blushes at Thomond Park as Munster eked out a narrow victory in this first interpro of the season.
The Ireland outhalf has endured a difficult start to the campaign and he looked to have handed Connacht the win when he was too casual with a clearance kick in his own ’22, allowing opposite number Jack Carty to charge him down and score.
The watching Andy Farrell would have furrowed that brow, but he’ll be heartened by the 25-year-old’s composed response as he delivered the winning kick to convert Diarmuid Barron’s late try to keep Munster’s 100 per cent start intact.
After comfortable wins over the Sharks, the Bulls and the Scarlets, this was a major step up in intensity. Connacht were stung by last week’s home loss to Dragons and they tore into a home side who were inaccurate and lacklustre in a poor first half.
Not that they were lacking for inspiration. As Munster concluded their warm-up, the image of their late coach Anthony Foley flashed up on the big screen and as the team went on a half-lap of the pitch, the crowd rose to acclaim their fallen hero, who died tragically five years ago yesterday.
It was a poignant moment that sent Peter O’Mahony and his team into the dressing room full of emotion but it was the visitors who struck first through a Carty penalty.
Carty doubled the lead after a strong kick return from Bundee Aki led to Chris Cloete coughing up a penalty and, with a strong wind at their backs, Connacht were making life difficult at the breakdown and at the lineout.
It was the night of the jackal, with Cloete competing strongly for Munster and Conor Oliver, Paul Boyle, Sammy Arnold and Aki going hard and winning steals for their side.
Munster had plenty of ball, but the men in green saw them off at every turn, and the increasing number of players clashing after penalties showed a frustration in the home side.
Mack Hansen thought he’d scored the first try, but Tiernan O’Halloran’s improvised final pass was adjudged to have been forward on review.
A pair of penalties gave Munster a trip to Connacht’s five-metre line, but again the lineout malfunctioned as the home crowd grew increasingly restless.
The men in red got the break they needed when Sammy Arnold’s tackle on Mike Haley was high. There wasn’t much in it, but referee Chris Busby reckoned it was worthy of a yellow card.
So, Connacht were down to 14 for the rest of the half and Munster made it count. Andrew Conway’s endeavour down the right allowed Rory Scannell find Beirne with a cross-kick. The Lion controlled the ball brilliantly with his foot and Cloete pounced to score. Replays showed that he was clearly in front of Scannell when the kick was launched, but somehow TMO Brian MacNeice was unmoved.
It was a poor call, but Munster weren’t complaining as Carbery’s conversion gave his side a one-point half-time lead.
They came out hard after the break and Carty and John Porch did well to deny Cloete a second try before Arnold returned.
Still, Connacht had lots of defending to do, but Paul Boyle delivered a big moment under his own posts as the pressure mounted.
Carbery extended the lead to 10-6 after Aki strayed offside, but back came Connacht, who punished penalties conceded by Cloete and Beirne with a quick-tap penalty that saw Boyle brilliantly crash over the South African flanker to score.
As Munster launched an inquest into the softest try they’ll concede all year, Carty’s conversion hit the post and his side remained one point in front.
A mix-up between Ultan Dillane and Hansen from the restart handed Munster the initiative, but again poor handling let them down. Carty cleared, but Connacht strayed offside from the lineout and Carbery took the chance to put his side back in the lead.
The pendulum swung once again when Carbery was too casual with a clearance kick and Carty charged his Ireland rival down, picked it up, scored and converted to put Munster in a hole with 10 minutes remaining.
Back came Munster, who were handed territory by a brilliant Beirne turnover and turned down three kickable penalties in their search for a try.
Eventually, their battering ram approach worked as young hooker Diarmuid Barron took Jack O’Donoghue’s clever pass and powered through Abraham Papali’I and Porch to score.
All eyes fell on Carbery as he lined up a difficult conversion. He made no mistake, saving his own blushes to deny Connacht a second successive Thomond Park success.
Scorers – Munster: C Cloete, D Barron try each; J Carbery 2 pens, 2 cons. Connacht: P Boyle try; J Carty try, 2 pens, con.
Munster: M Haley; A Conway, K Earls, R Scannell (D Goggin 57 HIA), S Zebo; J Carbery, C Casey; D Kilcoyne (J Loughman 55), N Scannell (D Barron 55), J Ryan (S Archer 55); J Kleyn (F Wycherley 60), T Beirne; P O’Mahony (capt), C Cloete (J O’Donoghue 68), G Coombes.
Connacht: T O’Halloran; J Porch, S Arnold, B Aki, M Hansen; J Carty (capt), C Blade (K Marmion 61); M Burke (G McGrath 74), D Heffernan (S Delahunt 59), F Bealham (J Aungier 64); N Murray, U Dillane (E Masterson 74); C Prendergast (J Butler 47), C Oliver, P Boyle (A Papali’I 59).
Referee: C Busby (IRFU)