Aki's try help Connacht secure win over Munster
URC REPORT: Bundee Aki’s first try of the season saw Connacht win a fiery United Rugby Championship contest as they edged out Munster 10-8 at the Sportsground.
Andrew Conway’s opportunist 22nd-minute try had Munster 8-3 ahead at half-time, with Connacht’s Oisin Dowling sin-binned late on.
It was Munster’s first URC outing since October and some jostling at the break saw referee Chris Busby show yellow cards to Shane Delahunt and Ben Healy.
Chris Farrell then saw yellow for a dangerous 56th-minute tackle on Connacht replacement Tom Farrell.
Connacht drove Aki over on the hour mark, with replacement Conor Fitzgerald’s crucial conversion earning only their second win in 10 games against Munster.
Andy Friend’s men ruined a promising early maul with obstruction, yet a sharp break by Kieran Marmion preceded an opening 14th-minute penalty from captain Jack Carty.
Munster flyhalf Healy quickly replied with a levelling three-pointer, punishing a block by Ultan Dillane. The hosts then conceded a try out of nothing.
Mack Hansen had a clearance kick charged down by Healy, Shane Daly nudged the ball on and Conway dotted down unchallenged in the left corner.
Although Healy missed the difficult conversion, Munster’s well-balanced back row continued to make inroads.
Nonetheless, Hansen did well to deny Conway before Munster’s pack emerged scoreless from a number of late tap penalties.
The niggly exchanges continued on the way to the dressing rooms, some pushing and shoving landing both Healy and Connacht hooker Delahunt in the bin.
With Carty off injured, replacement Fitzgerald’s superb hands had the Connacht attack humming before he missed a penalty.
Mike Haley then had to react sharply to thwart Marmion’s brilliant solo break from an interception.
Following a missed penalty from Healy, Munster were down to 14 men again when Farrell made ‘head-to-head’ contact with his namesake.
With mitigation, referee Busby produced his yellow card, but Munster were soon behind their posts – a cracking maul sending Aki over and Fitzgerald converted in terrific fashion.
Munster tightened up their defence, twice turning over Aki. However, Connacht dominated possession during the closing stages and deservedly finished on top.
Player of the match
Damian de Allende, Fineen Wycherley and Gavin Coombes stood out for the men in red, each maintaining a high work-rate.
But Cian Prendergast, Connacht’s ever-impressive young blindside, was the URC Player of the Match for another dynamic display up front. Closely followed by Conor Oliver, the former Munster man.
Play of the match
Just when Connacht were perhaps feeling aggrieved that Farrell had avoided a red card, Aki joined the subsequent maul to power over for a vital try.
Munster’s lineout drive had carried more threat up to that point, but the home side surged through for the Ireland star to score.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 John Porch, 13 Sammy Arnold, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Mack Hansen, 10 Jack Carty (captain), 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Jarrad Butler, 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Cian Prendergast, 5 Oisín Dowling, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Matthew Burke.
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Tietie Tuimauga, 18 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 19 Eoghan Masterson, 20 Abraham Papali’i, 21 Matthew Devine, 22 Conor Fitzgerald, 23 Tom Farrell.
Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Shane Daly, 10 Ben Healy, 9 Craig Casey, 8 Gavin Coombes, 7 Alex Kendellen, 6 Jack O’Donoghue (captain), 5 Fineen Wycherley, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Diarmuid Barron, 17 Jeremy Loughman, 18 Keynan Knox, 19 Thomas Ahern, 20 Jack Daly, 21 Neil Cronin, 22 Jack Crowley, 23 Rory Scannell.
Referee: Chris Busby
Assistant referees: Andrew Brace & Eoghan Cross
TMO: Olly Hodges