Munster book date with Benetton
PRO14 REPORT: Munster missed out on top spot in Conference A of the PRO14 but will head into the Finals Series on a high after a hard-fought 27-14 win over Connacht at Thomond Park.
Tries from Tadhg Beirne, Mike Haley and JJ Hanrahan were enough to secure the win for Munster and they will now welcome Benetton Rugby back here in the semi-final qualifier next weekend.
Connacht will be away to Ulster in the other qualifier but they had their moments in Limerick, Finlay Bealham crossing in the first half and Eoin McKeon in the second.
Glasgow Warriors’ impressive win over Edinburgh meant Munster were unable to catch their Conference A rivals at the top but they still did a professional job to claim inter-provincial bragging rights.
Keen to bury the disappointment of their European loss to Saracens last week, Munster were further hit by the loss of Conor Murray in the warm-up.
That brought in Neil Cronin to start at No.9 opposite Kieran Marmion, and it was the latter who edged their early exchanges in an impressive opening quarter for the visitors.
Conor Dean, son of former Triple Crown winner Paul Dean, missed an early kick at goal for Connacht and Tyler Bleyendaal showed him how it was done up the other end.
But Connacht then got the try their bright start deserved, Bealham on his return from injury grounding cleverly from close range under the posts and Dean adding the extras.
Munster then thought they had mustered an immediate response when Andrew Conway picked off an interception and raced under the posts.
But the wing failed to notice the retreating Stephen Fitzgerald who knocked the ball clear before Conway could ground it and Connacht survived.
That was a short stay of execution however, and Beirne went charging through before rounding Niyi Adeolokun to dot down.
Bleyendaal converted and now Munster were starting to purr. Conway – keen to make up for his error – got free down the right and fed Peter O’Mahony who put Haley clear for their second.
Bleyendaal added the extras for a 17-7 half time lead, Dean missing a late penalty for the visitors in a mixed first-half display for the youngster.
At the start of the second half Munster blew a great chance to extend their lead after a Dan Goggin break but Bleyendaal’s penalty made it 20-7.
The second half became a scrappy affair with tempers fraying and when Jeremy Loughman saw yellow, Connacht finally made their mounting pressure tell as McKeon battered his way over and Dean added the extras.
But no sooner had Connacht given themselves a chance than the 14 men of Munster hit back to put the game to bed, replacement Hanrahan darting under the posts after Sam Arnold’s impressive work in the build-up.
Tries: Beirne, Haley, Hanrahan
Cons: Bleyendaal 2, Hanrahan
Pens: Bleyendaal 2
Tries: Bealham, McKeon
Cons: Dean 2
Yellow card: Loughman (Munster, 68)
Munster: 15 Mike Haley; 14 Darren Sweetnam, 13 Sammy Arnold, 12 Dan Goggin, 11 Shane Daly; 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Alby Mathewson; 8 CJ Stander, 7 Chris Cloete, 6 Peter O’Mahony (Captain), 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Dave Kilcoyne,
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Jeremy Loughman, 18 John Ryan, 19 Billy Holland, 20 Arno Botha,21 Neil Cronin, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Sammy Arnold.
Connacht:15 Tiernan O’Halloran; 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Tom Daly, 11 Stephen Fitzgerald; 10 Conor Dean, 9 Kieran Marmion; 8 Robin Copeland, 7 Jarrad Butler (captain), 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 James Cannon, 4 Joe Maksymiw, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Matthew Burke,
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Peter McCabe, 18 Conor Carey, 19 Eoghan Masterson, 20 Paul Boyle, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Eoin Griffin, 23 Darragh Leader.
Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland) Nigel Correll (Ireland)
TMO: Colin Stanley (Ireland)