Munster Rugby secured their semi-final playoff spot against Leinster Rugby next week with a 49-12 victory over a Connacht Rugby side who were reduced to thirteen players in the opening half. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the result.
The teams announced had the conspiracy theorists out in force. Connacht Rugby overhauling their entire first fifteen from last week’s impressive win over Ulster Rugby while Munster Rugby looking to retain some cohesion with minimal changes in the back line after last week’s fixture to Leinster Rugby.
The news last night that Leinster Rugby would host the playoff semi-final at the Aviva Stadium and some media outlets implying that Munster Rugby would be the opposition irking some on the social media land of the living.
Opening exchanges see Munster Rugby on the front foot
The opening exchanges were robust. Blade looking to probe with some darting runs but the Munster Rugby breakdown work was on point with CJ Stander and Niall Scannell winning early turnover ball, setting up platform and forcing Connacht Rugby to concede a series of penalties.
Frank Murphy was quick to wield the yellow card to Conor Oliver after a series of Connacht Rugby penalties in their own half and that was the cue for Munster Rugby to score their opening try via Chris Cloete from a maul. O’Mahony’s take on the line out preceding the score noteworthy. 7-0.
Connacht Rugby were continuing to struggle and more penalty concession gave Munster Rugby further scoring opportunities from close range and a 5m scrum under the Connacht Rugby posts saw Murphy lose patience with Connacht Rugby and promptly awarded a penalty try. 14-0.
Abraham Papili’i had shown well in the opening exchanges. His physical ball carries noteworthy but his mistimed hit on Conor Murray was high and once Frank Murphy went to the TMO to review, there was little doubt that a red would be issued. Letter of the law stuff. No malice or intention but it was red. Harsh lesson for Paplili’i today but he needs to improve in this area of play.
Credit to Connacht Rugby though, they regrouped for the next ten minutes but all that hard work was undone by a moment of carelessness from Delahunt whose ball carry was wild leading with his elbow on CJ Stander.
Arno Botha saw a similar red card last year at Thomond Park and really the hooker can have little complaints. Inaccuracy costing Connacht Rugby and it allowed Munster Rugby to launch a platform for which Jeremy Loughman crashed over. 21-0.
Munster now the team to be under Murphy’s ire
The closing stages of the opening half saw more sporadic play and more penalty concessions and this time it was Munster Rugby at the end of the calls.
O’Mahony binned after a series of penalty calls against Munster Rugby and then Tadhg Beirne was pinged for playing the ball on the ground, perhaps unluckily. it is something for van Graan and management to focus on this week.
Early Connacht Rugby promise
Bundee Aki’s introduction gave Connacht Rugby a massive attacking outlet. The Irish center replacing the injured Tiernan O’Halloran midway through the opening period and his work with the ball was eye-catching as well as his duel with Chris Cleote throughout the afternoon. Bundee Aki crashing over from close range right on half-time. 21-7.
The opening half was so stop and start. The shrill of the whistle was too prominent and the red cards signaled the end of the contest. The question was how much the scoreboard would tick over?
Connacht Rugby started the second half with gusto and perhaps will feel aggrieved that they did not secure a penalty try of their own immediately after the break. Munster Rugby discipline again poor and Frank Murphy on another day could have punished the indiscipline with a seven pointer.
Play was allowed to ensue and unfortunately for Connacht Rugby, they were pinged for coming off their feet. Attacking threat over and unfortunately Munster Rugby were starting to get back to their full complement. You know the rest.
Munster Rugby expose tired Connacht Rugby defense
The rest of the game was inevitably one way traffic. Some good moments from Munster Rugby with JJ Hanrahan looking to create at every given opportunity. The link up play between Hanrahan and his three quarters of de Allende and Farrell continues to flourish.
After a near miss from Keith Earls, Tadhg Beirne and then Andrew Conway crossed over in double quick time. Conway’s try was a superb effort and saw nice attacking lines from de Allende who showed composure to wait for Conway to become available before offloading for the fifth try. Nice break from Farrell also from deep too.
JJ Hanrahan now afforded additional space by a tiring Connacht Rugby defensive unit executed a lovely kick in behind to set Conway away for his second try of the afternoon. 42-7 then became 49-7 when James Cronin crashed over from close distance (maul).
Connacht Rugby completed the scoring with a try of their own late. Aki involved in the build up as the ball was spun out to Jonny Murphy to score. The conversion from Fitzgerald missed. 49-12 to Munster and it was time for Frank Murphy to end the contest.
Munster Rugby win but they know that the skill set and discipline shown today will not be good enough to trouble Leinster Rugby who would expect to improve their performance from last week. A refreshed squad for Leo Cullen and management to select. Munster Rugby know that they have to deliver a complete performance to have a chance to win this playoff fixture.
Connacht Rugby finish out this season. A quick off season and back into the Guinness Pro14 in a couple of weeks. Andy Friend will be happy to give his squad game time, disappointed that Abraham Papali’i went off so early but a player who if he can refine his tackling will be a major asset for the side next term. The current squad when fully available is a match for everyone but today showed vulnerabilities and perhaps additional forward recruits are required to complement the academy talent coming into the senior side squad.
CJ Stander. Quality performance. He set the tone with two early turnover wins and his ball carrying was on point.
JJ Hanrahan had another good outing at ten. His link up play is improving with each passing game. The three quarter synchronization looks promising but the true acid test is against the Leinster Rugby juggernaut next weekend.
Bundee Aki as well for me was a prominent performer for Connacht Rugby when introduced. A player who is a key cog for Andy Farrell’s plan with the Ireland team in October!