Thirteen-man Munster survived a frantic finish in the Guinness PRO14 top-of-the-table clash to emerge as breathless 16-10 winners over Connacht at the Sportsground.
A last-gasp match-winning try eluded the home side, who came right back into contention late on through Peter Sullivan’s 78th-minute try and sin-bins for Munster replacement backs Rory Scannell and Nick McCarthy.
Munster had scored 10 points during Shane Delahunt’s sin-bin period, including an 18th-minute try from Chris Farrell, to lead by seven at half-time. Jack Carty replied with a late penalty for Connacht.
Munster’s control of the breakdown was decisive – where player-of-the-match Tadhg Beirne starred – and two second-half penalties from JJ Hanrahan, who finished with 11 points, had them marked out as comfortable winners until the late scare.
The result puts Johann Van Graan’s men 11 points clear at the top of Conference B, while second-placed Connacht, who were unable to repeat last week’s heroics from the Leinster game, have Scarlets and Cardiff Blues snapping at their heels.
The opening points eluded Carty from a poor penalty miss in the third minute, whereas Hanrahan split the posts following a dominant line-out drive which also landed Connacht hooker Delahunt in the bin.
Munster’s power-packed maul provided the platform for the night’s first try, collecting a penalty advantage before centre Farrell crossed from a Conor Murray pass. Hanrahan converted for 10-0.
Connacht pressed for a try of their own off a penalty, with Tom Daly threatening from midfield but Munster stood firm and their control of the breakdown was increasing.
Given their 59 per cent share of possession across the opening 40 minutes, the westerners needed points and got them just before the break when fly-half Carty punished Stephen Archer’s collapsing of a scrum.
Daly was caught offside early in the second period, allowing Hanrahan to claim back those three points. Connacht had opportunities to build some pressure, but Beirne, Gavin Coombes and CJ Stander all forced breakdown penalties.
Hanrahan stretched the lead to 16-3 with a 61st-minute penalty, awarded for former Munster man Sam Arnold not rolling away.
However, the men in red allowed their discipline to slip and an accumulation of penalties saw Scannell binned with four minutes remaining. Connacht worked the ball wide for replacement Sullivan to score near the right corner and Carty brilliantly converted.
It gave them a losing bonus point, but it could have been much more. A superb last-minute surge, including a side-stepping run by Ultan Dillane, led to McCarthy’s yellow card and a furious scramble close to the Munster line that saw Connacht ultimately fall just short.
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