Van Graan's Munster muscle to No.1
MATCH REPORT: Joey Carbery guided Munster to a 31-24 victory over Connacht and top spot in Conference A of the PRO14 after a pulsating encounter at the Sportsground.
The Ireland flyhalf scored a try and kicked a further 11 points to hand Johann van Graan’s men bragging rights at the home of one of their fiercest rivals.
With valuable points up for grabs and the table hotting up, both sides were quick out of the traps in the early stages. And much to the delight of the home crowd, it was the hosts who struck the first blow.
Tom Farrell ripped the ball out of Arno Botha’s hands before racing to clear to score the opener.
Connacht were playing with the type of confidence that comes with having won four of their last five PRO14 fixtures, but instead of cowering in the face of the early blow, Munster grew in stature.
Slowly but surely they began to puncture holes in the hosts’ defence, and just six minutes later they were level with a landmark score.
Chris Farrell crashed through the middle and from the ensuing quick ball, Peter O’Mahony held off two defenders to finish in the corner.
The try was the 500th of the PRO14 season, and served as the basis for a spell of sustained pressure for the Thomond Park outfit.
Dominating both possession and territory, Munster continued to attack. Wave after wave had been repelled by the hosts by the time Dan Goggin powered over on 25 minutes.
A Joey Carbery conversion, followed swiftly by a Jack Carty penalty, saw Munster head into half-time 14-10 to the good – just rewards for their dominant play.
However, just as they had done at the start of the opening period, Connacht made another fast start, scoring their second try of the game just after the break.
The impressive Tom Farrell – a constant throughout in attack – was once again the heart of the move, breaking clear before feeding Cian Kelleher to touch down.
The topsy-turvy nature of the clash continued as Munster mounted their second fightback of the game to wrestle back the initiative through tries from Goggin and Carbery.
The gap between the teams was now 14 points, but just as all looked lost for Connacht, substitute Ultan Dillane burst a hole in the Munster rearguard, allowing the supporting Carty to reduce the deficit and ensure a nervy conclusion.
But with replacement Conor Murray and Carbery orchestrating proceedings, chances for the hosts were few and far between, with Munster holding on to take top spot in Conference A after Glasgow’s defeat at Benetton.
Connacht’s losing bonus point sees them draw level with third-placed Ospreys, who tasted victory against Cardiff Blues earlier on Saturday.
Tries: Farrell, Carty, Kelleher
Cons: Carty 3
Tries: O’Mahony, Carbery, Goggin 2
Cons: Carbery 4
Connacht: 15 Darragh Leader, 14 Cian Kelleher, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Tom Daly, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Eoghan Masterson, 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Paul Boyle, 5 Quinn Roux, 4 Gavin Thornbury, 3 Dominic Robertson Mc-Coy, 2 Dave Heffernan (captain), 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Peter McCabe, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Cillian Gallagher, 21 Angus Lloyd, 22 David Horwitz, 23 Colm DeBuitlear.
Munster: 15 Andrew Conway, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Dan Goggin, 11 Alex Wootton, 10 Joey Carbery, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 John Ryan, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Jeremy Loughman.
Replacements: 16 Kevin O’Byrne, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Billy Holland, 20 CJ Stander, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Tyler Bleyendaal, 23 Sammy Arnold.
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Ben Blain (Scotland), Paul Haycock (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
A pulsating half of rugby at the Sportsground! 👊
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) January 5, 2019