It was anything but a Christmas cracker in Galway on Saturday night, but Connacht won’t care having overcome Munster in the one and only interpro to hold out against the Omicron wave that has swept the country.
Errors abounded on a night that was windy and damp, yet positively balmy by the Sportsgrounds’ standards, and the entertainment on offer was further compromised by the awarding of no less than 27 penalties across the 80 minutes.
This was the fifth consecutive meeting of these sides to be decided by a single score but a strong Connacht selection should really have won by more against a more diluted Munster roster having dominated both territory and possession.
A scratchy first-half summed up the imperfect nature of it all as Connacht must have been scratching their heads at being 8-3 down half an hour into a period where they dominated possession and territory despite playing into the wind.
All had changed by the pause as they celebrated the maintenance of that same five-point deficit having survived a Munster siege on their line that saw the hosts leak no less than seven penalties and Oisin Dowling to the sinbin.
Jack Carty had capped a scrappy first 15 minutes with a penalty but the game was already littered with a catalogue of mistakes. Add in Munster’s solid defensive shift and the home side’s hopes of profiting from their inventiveness were coming to naught.
Kieran Marmion of Connacht is tackled by Alex Kendellen, left, and Niall Scannell of Munster during the United Rugby Championship match between Connacht and Munster at The Sportsground in Galway. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
— Connacht Rugby (@connachtrugby) January 1, 2022
Ben Healy cancelled out the opening score within two minutes, the three points arriving courtesy of a silly obstruction from Ultan Dillane, and Connacht continued to shoot themselves in the foot against a visitor offering little with the ball.
Andrew Conway’s opening try was a gift to make Santa blush and it was delivered from his own 22 when Matthew Burke was turned over, Healy boomed clear to the far end and Mack Hansen dilly-dallied over a clearing kick.
The ball bounced eight times before the wing picked it up, his belated boot to ball finding the onrushing Healy and Conway slipping in to touch down. Andy Friend comes across as a nice guy but the Connacht coach must have been furious.
Munster’s prolonged stint of possession towards the end of the period owed to a similar looseness from Connacht with the battle royale on the home try line ultimately leading to no scores but a handful of flare-ups, one of them as they left the field at the break.
Referee Chris Busby’s patience, which seemed limitless at one point, was all used up at that and it resulted in Connacht’s Shane Delahunt and Munster’s Healy starting the second-half on the pine for their role in the fracas.
Connacht were further hampered by the loss just before the action ended of the in-form Carty to a blood injury. Conor Fitzgerald continued to deputise for him on the restart and, like Healy, missed a penalty in the course of the next quarter.
It was approaching the hour when the stalemate began to break, Chris Farrell being the fourth player to see yellow after a high tackle on Tom Farrell. Truth is he was very lucky not to be handed red for an upright tackle that made contact with the head.
Connacht’s sense of injustice was soon replaced by joy, Fitzgerald kicking the penalty to touch and Bundee Aki going over for their try off the back of the resultant maul. A conversion from the touchline left them 10-8 to the good.
Munster managed to stem any more scores while Farrell was stewing on the naughty step but the momentum remained with Connacht who threatened but failed to add to their slender advantage for the remainder.