On a day when any sane person wouldn’t put out a milk bottle, Munster and Connacht managed to serve up an entertaining contest at a wind ‘n rain lashed Sportsground with Munster ending up 14-8 winners.
Even before the kick off the respective sides must have decided independently of each other to tear up the script. There was a howling gale backed up by sheeting rain but in the end the elements played a perverse part in the outcome of this game.
In the opening half Munster had the elements but couldn’t get their hands on the ball and in the second half Connacht suffered a similar fate.
Crucially Munster won the first half 6-3 and the second period 8-5. Afterwards Munster coach Declan Kidney paid tribute to the fifteen who braved the elements in the first half giving credit to them for tiring out a Connacht side who failed to reproduce athing like their first half effort. Kidney did throw on three Lions and a former Springbok at the break and they manged toignite the Munster effort but were aided and abetted by John O’Sullivan, Frank Sheahan, Donncha O’Callaghan, James Coughlan, Christian Cullen and the faultless Tomas O’Leary.
Connacht certainly played the cuter football in that opening half and were just 6-3 in arrears when the game produced perhaps two incidents that would ultimately decide the outcome. Just before half time Connacht were camped on the Munster line but could not get over.
Then John O’Sullivan was yellow-carded and Connacht were awarded penalty, that even given the conditions was kickable. They opted to go to touch but Munster once again resisted their best efforts and they went into to the welcome shelter of the dressing rooms with nothing to show for their best period of the game.
Then, within minutes of the restart, Connacht once again won a five metre line-out. John Fogarty threw very long and very crooked, a Connacht hand seemed to knock on but Ray Ofisa touched down and to much amazement referee David Keane awarded the try.
Now leading 8-6, and with Ronan O’Gara sitting in the bin alongside O’Sullivan, for his remonstrations over the try, Connacht looked to be in pole position but that was to be their last serious trip into the Munster red zone. Instead it was Munster who played keep-ball, patiently worked their way into the Connacht 22 and after a succession of scrums that were stopped illegally, swept the ball wide for O’Leary to score in the right corner.
In the conditions it wasn’t surprising that O’Gara missed the conversion but there was some concern when he was wide from in front of the posts with a later penalty. Munster refused to panic, O’Leary, Cullen, Shaun Payne, and O’Connell hoovered up any stray ball and carried it willingly back at Connacht and O’Gara tagged on a penalty with two minutes of normal time remaining.
MUNSTER: C Cullen; T O’Leary, B Murphy (T Halstead half-time), M Lifeimi, S Payne; J Manning (R O’Gara half-time), P Stringer; D Hurley (J Hayes half-time), F Sheahan, F Pucciariello; D O’Callaghan, C Wyatt (P O’Connell half-time); J O’Sullivan, D Wallace, J Coughlan.
CONNACHT: D Riordan; K Matthews (J Hearty 75 min), P Warwick, G Williams, D Yapp; M McHugh, C Keane; B Wilkinson, J Fogarty (A Flavin 63 mins), S Knoop (B Sturgess 61 mins); D Gannon ( M Swift 14 mins), A Farley; J Muldoon, R Ofisa (M Lacey 71 mins), C Rigney.
Referee: D Keane (IRFU).