The scoreline says everything about this game. Munster romped to an easy seven try rout of a Connacht side who look to have booked their summer holidays. The video footage of the Munster seven tries is enclosed below.
On paper, it genuinely looked that Connacht would produce a performance at Thomond Park. A side containing the likes of Muldoon, Carty, Ronaldson, O’Halloran. Yes, the Westerners had to contend with numerous injuries in both the pack and back line but compared to the patched up side that was destroyed by the Scarlets in the previous round, it looked like Pat Lam and management were targeting the game to build morale and confidence ahead of the ERC playoffs.
Munster team selection was around familiar lines. Erasmus fielded a side with a mix of youth and experience. The front five included O’Shea in the second row but also complemented by the massive experience of Holland, Cronin, Marshall and Archer in the unit. The back row was young and exciting. Deysel at six explosive to complement Conor Oliver and Jack O’Donoghue at eight.
The half-backs was an intriguing combination with Angus Lloyd and Ian Keatley. The three quarters again was a mix of youth and experience with highly rated Dan Goggins pairing up with Jaco Taute. Keith Earls and Alex Wooton again continued the mixed team selection with the marauding Andrew Conway at full back.
Early Exchanges Decisive
Connacht started the first three minutes of the game with intent; creating several phases of play in the Munster 22 but the hosts defensively were on point and Deysel at the breakdown was proving to be an absolute beast stealing Connacht possession. The brief onslaught from Connacht was lifted and from there on in, it was plain sailing for Munster. Marshall was excelling with ball in hand; creating numerous line breaks and setting up the platform for Lloyd to quickly distribute from the ruck.
The first try of the afternoon was scored by Keith Earls; a routine straight from the training ground. Solid lineout execution led to a swift pass from Lloyd to Keatley who identifying a defensive misread in the Connacht defense set Dan Goggins free. Ronaldson will not be pleased with his defensive positioning as Goggins strode easily into space where the ever alert Earls was on hand to receive the pass from the youngster and over straight under the posts. The nightmare had only started for Connacht as defensive frailties were starting to surface all over the park, a repeat of their performance against Scarlets.
Munster did not have to wait long for the second try of the evening. More good work from the pack setting the platform. Swift ruck clearance allowing Lloyd to distribute to his colleagues out wide where the ball eventually arrived to Jack O’Donoghue who strode over.
The first quarter particularly saw an impressive cameo from the half-backs. Lloyd at nine was producing an extremely efficient performance. Good kick game with quick passing was catching the eye and Connacht defensively off guard. Keatley was man of the match when these two sides played earlier in the season. The former Connacht man again came to the fore with an excellent display; game management was on point and his kicking off the tee was excellent. His decision making in particular was creating numerous Munster line breaks.
The speed of decision making from Keatley was decisive in the third Munster try. Keatley identifying space out wide, passing to Conway who then set Wooton free out wide. An explosive run of twenty meters had exposed Connacht again defensively and with Keatley supporting the ball carrier distributed to Conway to spectacularly touch down in the corner. A superb try, excellent offloads in contact.
The opening period also was the introduction of Deysel at the six position. The South African was a beast throughout; his physicality was on point but it was his breakdown work in the opening period which caught the eye. Three steals and forced the O’Halloran spill which led to the third Munster try. Deysel is a player of exceptional potential for the province. His versatility to play second row and back row is a real plus. A superb cameo.
Second Half – Testimonial Game
The second half really did resemble a testimonial game; both sides were trying to attack from all areas of the pitch. After a superbly execute Connacht try from Kelleher after Carty’s aerial kick to the corner, service was quickly resumed. Connacht falling asleep at the restart, losing possession deep in their own half and after Wooton nearly got over after another explosive run. The ball was distributed to James Cronin who crashed over from short distance. It encapsulated all that was wrong with Connacht; lapses in concentration, defensively at sixes and sevens, breakdown spoiling non-existent.
The fifth Munster try was not long in coming again as defensive misreads from Connacht in the three quarters was punished by a quick fire Bleyendaal and Taute passes eventually found Conway in space who strode unopposed for another score; it was ridiculously easy at this stage. The white flag should have being raised at that point.
However, Connacht stirred themselves for one final attacking spurt in the final quarter and were rewarded with a close range try. The response was emphatic as Munster ran in try number six. A huge collision in the Connacht twenty-two saw the ball spill to Francis Saili who was not going to be stopped from close range. It was another cheap score; Connacht playing in the wrong areas, a tactic which worked last season has being now counteracted by opposition this season with excellent defensive line speed to close space both inside and outside the ball carrier.
Top of the league!
The final score was a training ground routine out wide. Conor Oliver was the man to touchdown after good passing from several Munster players. The massacre was concluded and Keatley’s conversion miss was a blessing for Connacht. A seven try rout and with Ulster beating Leinster at Kingspan, Munster suddenly were top of the league and resulting in a fixture against the Ospreys on May 20th.
Considering how the team was this time last season, barely scraping through to the ERC, this has being a season of immense progress. Of course, it has being shrouded with sadness. Anthony Foley will never be forgotten; he sheltered the team when the results were going in a downward spiral. The team emerged from his tragic passing with unity, team work and determination, the central ethos of the club. Kudos to the management and players for the season produced under exceptionally trying circumstances.
Murray returns unscathed
The game was noteworthy for the emergence from injury of Conor Murray. The Patrickswell native came through the game with no ill effects; was rarely pressured in the rucks but was tested with a couple of physical hits on the fringes during his thirty minute cameo. A huge plus for both province and the Lions tour particularly with the news that Ben Youngs has withdrawn from the tour due to personal reasons.
First things first, there is a Pro 12 league title to win. Ospreys in two weeks at Thomond Park should be a superb occasion. A potential trip to Dublin and the Aviva Stadium for the final is motivation enough. Roll on May 20th!