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Munster almost left red-faced by spirited Connacht

Connacht 10, Munster Rugby 16
MUNSTER got the win they required tonight in the Galway Showgrounds but they had to fight tooth and nail to withstand a superb fight back from Connacht in a highly entertaining Guinness PRO14 Championship game. After a promising opening half which saw Munster leading 10-3 at the break, they started the second half in determined fashion and added a second penalty that pushed the lead to 13-3 on 42 minutes. Connacht have been showing good form this season and, somehow, they clawed their way back into the game. Munster were one-dimensional for most of the 80 minutes with the Murray box-kick their only ploy for good possession in their opponents half. Apart from one or two fancy backline training ground moves, they ran out of ideas as the second half progressed and it was a very relieved Munster camp when referee Frank Murphy blew that long shrill whistle to end a highly entertaining battle.
The opening minutes saw Munster take the game to the home side after Jack Carty had missed an easy penalty in front of the posts. The same player was to make amends with the last kick of the half when he found the target to send the teams in with Munster leading 10-3. It was a lead that they fully deserved. Their pack had the edge for most of the half and even the loss of Jean Kleyn midway through the half after a HIA did not disrupt their rhythm. JJ Hanrahan gave Munster the lead after 11 minutes from a penalty and seven minutes later the lead rose to ten points when Sammy Arnold was whistled at the breakdown, Munster went for the lineout maul and Chris Farrell (pictured) burst over with Hanrahan adding the conversion.
With Tadhg Beirne effective at the breakdown, forcing a couple of turnovers, and Conor Murray consistently putting the ball into Connacht territory, Munster looked as if they would increase their lead but it was the home side who had the final say of the half with Carty’s kick giving his side some hope in the second period.
Munster showed immediate intent as the second half got underway, the pack looked fired-up as they stormed into the Connacht red zone. They got some reward with JJ Hanrahan kicking a close-in penalty on 42 minutes. We expected the Reds to motor on from there and finish with a couple of scores but Connacht hung in there, competing fiercely against the physicality of the visitors but they just could not make those extra metres that would provide a try. Munster drove forward as the game went into the final quarter and JJ Hanrahan extended the lead to 3-16 on 63 minutes with his third successful kick.
Ben Healy was forced to clear his lines just as he replaced Hanrahan but even though Connacht remained camped in the Munster half for the next eight minutes they still could not pierce a solid defence. The Westerners continued to batter the Munster defence and referee Murphy sent Rory Scannell to the bin. In the next phase Connacht got the try they deserved when replacement Peter O’Sullivan got on the end of a flowing backline move. The conversion was from a difficult angle but Jack Carty again showed his class squeezing the ball inside the right hand post to reduce the lead to 10-16.
The remaining minutes were nail-biting with Connacht going within inches of what could have provided a try and conversion for a winning score with the final play of this thriller. Unfortunately for the gallant hosts they lost possession a few metres from the posts.
Connacht: John Porch, Ben O’Donnell, Sammy Arnold, Tom Daly, Alex Wootton, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade; Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux (CAPT), Sean O’Brien, Conor Oliver, Sean Masterson.
Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Matthew Burke, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle, Kieran Marmion, Diarmuid Kilgallen, Peter Sullivan.
Munster: Mike Haley, Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende, Shane Daly, JJ Hanrahan, Conor Murray; James Cronin, Kevin O’Byrne, Stephen Archer, Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beinre, Gavin Coombes, Peter O’Mahony (CAPT), CJ Stander.
Replacements: Niall Scannell, Josh Wycherley, Keynan Knox, Dineen Wycherley, Billy Holland, Nick McCarthy, Ben Healy, Rory Scannell.
Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU, 40th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Chris Busby, Peter Martin (both IRFU)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (IRFU)

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