Beirne shines as Van Graan's Munster cling on for gritty win away to Connacht

Chris Farrell’s first-half try was crucial while JJ Hanrahan kicked 11 points off the tee.

Connacht 10

Munster 16

WITH THE CLOCK in the red and 15-man Connacht pounding the 13-man Munster line in search of a winning try, there was only ever going to be one man to force the ball loose and allow the visitors to make a precious final turnover.

Tadhg Beirne jackaled once again – soon after Billy Holland’s excellent try-saving tackle on Peter Sullivan – and the lock’s efforts resulted in the ball bobbling out of the breakdown for Munster to fall on it in relief as Frank Murphy then sounded the final whistle.

tadhg-beirne-celebrates-with-peter-omahony-and-gavin-coombes Gavin Coombes celebrates with man of the match Tadhg Beirne. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Andy Friend’s Connacht very nearly stole a victory with two Munster men in the sin bin in dying moments, but the visitors were deserved winners overall. 

There were more glimpses of the development Munster are keen to make under attack specialist Stephen Larkham in Galway, from Beirne’s clever passes out the back to Keith Earls’ break off a sharp lineout play.

But more traditional Munster strengths were at the foundation of this important Guinness Pro14 victory against Connacht in Galway, as Johann van Graan’s side delivered a gritty performance to strengthen their hold on Conference B.

The Munster maul was excellent, their defensive work was relentless, and their breakdown threat repeatedly denied Connacht momentum as Beirne led the charge in that area once again. And yet, they still needed a huge effort right until the death.

This victory for Munster sees the southern province move 11 points clear at the top of Conference B, the winner of which will advance into this season’s Pro14 final.

Friend’s Connacht couldn’t quite hit the heights of last weekend, when they beat Leinster in Dublin, and a first-half yellow card for hooker Shane Delahunt proved very costly as Munster scored 10 points during that period.

Beirne was deservedly named man of the match for Munster, for whom Springbok centre Damian de Allende was excellent again, while the back row of Gavin Coombes, captain Peter O’Mahony, and CJ Stander shone throughout. Scrum-half Conor Murray appeared to enjoy the physical nature of the game too.   

Jack Carty had a poor early miss off the tee from just to the left of the posts following a strong start by Connacht and it was the visitors who were first off the mark instead soon after an excellent choke tackle turnover by Damian de Allende and JJ Hanrahan on Tom Daly.

ben-odonnell-is-tackled-by-gavin-coombes Gavin Coombes tackles Ben O'Donnell. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Munster turned the ensuing scrum into a penalty, kicked down into the home side’s half, then put together a superb maul that surged 15 metres upfield to the Connacht 22 before Shane Delahunt collapsed it.

Referee Frank Murphy immediately went to the yellow card to put Friend’s men under pressure, with Hanrahan slotting the three points.

Loosehead prop Denis Buckley was called on to unsuccessfully throw into a Connacht lineout in Delahunt’s absence and the hooker’s 10-minute period in the bin ended with Munster earning a converted try to grab a total of 10 points while he was off.

Again, the maul did damage after an excellent take by captain Peter O’Mahony in the lineout, then CJ Stander made an important carry to leave Munster a metre short, with centre Chris Farrell charging over to score off Conor Murray’s pass.

Hanrahan converted for 10-0 as the game headed into the second quarter, though a tit-for-tat exchange of penalties between the sides prevented any real flow before the break.

chris-farrell-scores-a-try Chris Farrell scored for Munster in the first half. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

More happily for Connacht, they ended the first half by reducing the deficit. It stemmed from a positive passage of Munster attack ending with Gavin Coombes’ offload catching James Cronin unaware and Connacht fullback John Porch then blasting the loose ball downfield.

Shane Daly collected the ball near Munster’s 22 but passed it forward to Coombes, with Connacht winning a penalty at the resulting scrum and Carty making no mistake with his second shot at goal for a 10-3 scoreline.

But van Graan’s men extended their lead back out to 10 points less than three minutes after the break as they made a lively start to the second half, leading to Connacht edging offside and Hanrahan punishing them off the tee. 

Munster followed up with another strong defensive set in their own 22, Tadhg Beirne producing another crucial turnover penalty in a superb breakdown performance. 

Coombes and Stander produced further breakdown steals in the 10 minutes that followed, frustrating Connacht as they attempted to close the deficit.

Stander’s steal indirectly led to Munster adding a further three points, a clever lineout play creating space for Keith Earls to dart forward, then their power game eventually resulting in Connacht failing to roll away from a tackle, allowing Hanrahan an easy shot from straight in front.

jj-hanrahan-takes-a-kick JJ Hanrahan kicked 11 points off the tee for Munster. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Munster showed plenty more of their defensive qualities in the closing quarter as they saw the away win out, but replacement back Rory Scannell was binned with three minutes left to leave them under pressure.

They finally cracked with two minutes left, Connacht sub wing Peter Sullivan crossing wide on the right and Carty slotting the conversion to grab the losing bonus point.

And when Nick McCarthy was binned just after Ultan Dillane had gathered Carty’s cross-field kick to surge at the line, Connacht had one last chance.

But Holland, Beirne and co. held on as the home side failed to use their two-man advantage even off a five-metre scrum.

Connacht scorers:

Tries: Peter Sullivan

Conversions: Jack Carty [1 from 1] 

Penalties: Jack Carty [1 from 2]

Munster scorers:

Tries: Chris Farrell

Conversions: JJ Hanrahan [1 from 1]

Penalties: JJ Hanrahan [3 from 3]

CONNACHT: John Porch; Ben O’Donnell (Peter Sullivan ’49), Sammy Arnold, Tom Daly, Alex Wootton; Jack Carty, Caolin Blade (Kieran Marmion ’54); Denis Buckley (Matthew Burke ’49), Shane Delahunt (yellow card ’10) (Dave Heffernan ’49), Finlay Bealham (Dominic Robertson-McCoy ’52); Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux (captain); Sean O’Brien (Paul Boyle ’42), Conor Oliver, Sean Masterson (Dave Heffernan ’15 to ’20) (Gavin Thornbury ’54).

Replacements: Diarmuid Kilgallen.

MUNSTER: Mike Haley; Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende, Shane Daly (Rory Scannell ’71 (yellow card ’77)); JJ Hanrahan (Ben Healy ’63), Conor Murray (Nick McCarthy ’73 (yellow card ’79)); James Cronin (Josh Wycherley ’60), Kevin O’Byrne (Niall Scannell ’53), Stephen Archer (Keynan Knox ’53); Jean Kleyn (Fineen Wycherley ’15), Tadhg Beirne; Gavin Coombes (Billy Holland ’66), Peter O’Mahony (captain), CJ Stander.

Referee: Frank Murphy [IRFU]. 

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