Leaders Munster hold off Connacht
December 27, 2013
Munster carved out a workmanlike win over Connacht in a rain-lashed festive derby at Thomond Park. Fly-half JJ Hanrahan maintained his impressive recent form by scoring all of the hosts' points in extremely wet conditions, converting his own try and kicking all five of his penalty attempts in the 22-16 victory.
One of only two survivors from last weekend's late victory over the Scarlets, Hanrahan drove Munster to a 13-6 half-time lead with his opposite number Dan Parks bagging three penalties for Connacht.
The RaboDirect PRO12 leaders relied on three more Hanrahan kicks to see them home, although Connacht fought tenaciously for a deserved losing bonus point - replacement hooker David Heffernan dotted down in the third minute of injury-time with Parks adding the all-important conversion.
Turnovers blighted Connacht's early forays into Munster territory, while the first show of directness from the hosts - James Cronin and new hooker Niall Scannell both carried strongly - set up Hanrahan's opening kick in the ninth minute. But prop Cronin was the one singled out for offside after a Robbie Henshaw half-break, allowing Parks to get Connacht back level within four minutes.
Matt Healy's man-and-ball tackle on Keith Earls saw the westerners blitz through for a second kickable penalty which Parks tucked away neatly. Munster though were back in front by the 20-minute mark, their new-look centre pairing of Johne Murphy and James Downey causing damage on the right wing before Hanrahan exposed a gap between Parks and Michael Kearney to score just to the left of the posts.
Hanrahan added the conversion and then lofted over a second penalty, although Connacht were left aggrieved after lock Kearney was wrongly penalised at a lineout - a decision that robbed Nathan White of a try-scoring chance. Munster continued to be the aggressors nearing half-time but a second try eluded them and, in a scrappy finish, tempers flared after Cronin and Connacht full-back Gavin Duffy clashed at the bottom of a ruck.
Cronin was also in the thick of the action when the second half got under way. He was pulled back by Frank Murphy as he chased his own hack through, with Connacht's centurion scrum half promptly sin-binned. Hanrahan converted the resulting penalty for a 10-point lead and Connacht were briefly down to 13 players, their tighthead Nathan White seeing yellow for lashing out at Cronin after the Munster prop instigated the incident. Cronin also spent 10 minutes in the bin and although Hanrahan's fourth successful penalty made it 19-6, Connacht were still a threat.
Henshaw probed from an opportunist kick and replacement scrum half Kieran Marmion made an instant impression by blocking down Duncan Williams' attempted clearance. As the rain pelted down unmercifully in the final quarter, Parks and Hanrahan added one more penalty apiece as both try-lines remained relatively untroubled.
CJ Stander went close for Munster and Earls and Fionn Carr both had opportunities to stretch their legs, before the visitors strung together their best spell of continuity late on. John Muldoon barged through on the left wing and a couple of quick recycles allowed Carr to send Heffernan in to the right of the posts. Busy referee Dudley Phillips checked on a previous incident of foul play and allowed the score to stand, with Parks successfully slotting the extras.
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