By John O’Sullivan
Connacht completed the clean sweep of away interprovincial victories this season after a 24-20 win against Munster in the Rainbow Cup at Thomond Park.
The visitors registered three tries via Sammy Arnold, Conor Fitzgerald, and Kieran Marmion with Fitzgerald tagging on a further nine points via three conversions and a penalty.
The hosts scored two tries and two penalties, but it was Connacht — with their defence solid, especially the line out maul — who sealed a deserved victory.
The away team started brightly and after their pressure earned them a shot at goal, Fitzgerald nudged them ahead with a sweetly struck penalty.
Munster responded well and they powered over for the first try of the night when James Cronin barrelled over from close range. With the conversion successful, the home team lead 7-3 in an entertaining opening to the game.
Connacht responded brilliantly, however, and from the subsequent restart they opened their try-scoring account. A high restart from Fitzgerald caused confusion in the home team’s ranks and after the ball was spilled, Arnold showed sharpness of mind to claim the ball. The Ireland international, who started the game on the wing, powered through would-be tackles and touched down. Making no mistake, Fitzgerald slotted a difficult conversion from the corner and the Westerners lead 10-7.
Showing confidence in the attack, the pressure being applied by the Westerners forced Munster into conceding penalties and it culminated in Shane Daily being yellow carded for an intentional knock-on.
With the man advantage and Fitzgerald and captain Tom Daly managing the game superbly with sharp territorial kicking, Connacht were establishing field position deep in the hosts’ half. The away team kicked a penalty to the line and — after an intricate move — the ball was worked to Daly and the centre found Fitzgerald on a loop move. The fly half ran an angled line then stepped and sped into space for a try which he converted to give the visitors a 17-7 lead.
Munster were next to score and they decreased the margin to three points when Rhys Marshall crossed the line from close range and Ben Healy converted. The teams went into the break with Connacht leading 17-14 after an enthralling half of rugby.
The Westerners began the second half in blistering fashion and they had a try scarcely a minute in. Strong defence forced a Munster knock-on and from the loose ball Cian Prendergast kicked through. The ball fell to Marmion and the scrum-half pinned his ears back and ran in the try. Fitzgerald kept his 100% success rate off the tee up and Connacht established a 24-14 lead.
The scoring was going tit for tat and Munster were next to trouble the scoreboard when Healy drove a long-range penalty between the sticks to reduce the deficit to 24-17.
With their tails up, the home side cranked up the pressure and laid siege to the visitors’ 22, but Connacht were stout and committed in defence. Replacement Denis Buckley completed the defensive set when he brilliantly turned over the ball with Munster pushing for a try with fewer than ten minutes remaining.
The hosts weren’t disheartened, though, and they registered a score when replacement Joey Carbery shortened the gap with a penalty to bring the score to 24-20.
Munster continued to push and probe, but the Connacht defence — with centre Sean O’Brien and lock Ultan Dillane particularly impressive — held firm to seal the win and complete the sweep of away victories for the Westerners in interpro’s this season.
15: John Porch
14: Sammy Arnold
13: Sean O’Brien
12: Tom Daly (C)
11: Alex Wootton
10: Conor Fitzgerald
9: Kieran Marmion
8: Abraham Papali’i
7: Conor Oliver
6: Cian Prendergast
5: Ultan Dillane
4: Niall Murray
3: Dominic Robertson McCoy
2: Shane Delahunt
1: Paddy McAllister
Replacements: Denis Buckley for McAllister, Finlay Bealham for Robertson McCoy, Dave Heffernan for Delahunt, Sean Masterson for Oliver. Jack Carty for Fitzgerald. Caolin Blade for Marmion. Peter Sullivan for Arnold. Eoghan Masterson for Papali’i