George Naoupu, Eoghan Grace and Mike McCarthy reflect on Connacht's loss. ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
gift wrapped

'It's a great Christmas present for us' - Penney reflects on Connacht's near miss

Munster climbed to third in the Pro12 table after their win in Galway.

NOT FOR THE first time this season, year or decade, Connacht will reflect on a game they should have won.

Eric Elwood’s men lost 16-12 after meeting a determined, and under-strength, Munster side in Galway but they left 17 points on the field.

Fetu’u Vainikolo did superbly to intercept a Johne Murphy pass and looked a certainty to repeat his Tongan breakaway, against Scotland last month, but Ian Keatley had other ideas.

The Munster out-half sprinted a diagonal line from midfield and wrapped up the winger within sight of his tryline.

Dan Parks missed a 40-metre penalty on 64 minutes but was heavily involved as Connacht fashioned a potential game-winner.

George Naoupu was denied a nailed-on try late in the second-half and a brave Peter Stringer did enough to put him off grounding the ball sufficiently to put doubt in the mind of the television match official.

Christmas present

Connacht coach Eric Elwood told TG4 after the match that he was “devastated” by the home loss.

“We had our chances and, unfortunately, didn’t take them and paid the ultimate price,” he said. Speaking about the scoring chances, Elwood reflected:

Technically, [Fetu'u] could have put the ball in his left hand and fended with his right hand. George just had to put the ball down.

“Dan also missed right in front of the sticks.”

Munster coach Rob Penney paid tribute to Keatley for his determination not to give Vainikolo and easy score.

Ian Keatley makes a try-saving tackle on Fetu’u Vainikolo. (©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)

Penney said, “When Vainikolo gets away like that there’s usually no stopping him. It’s just a great credit to Ian as he’s got some gas and he never gave up.”

The Kiwi has worked with Naoupu in the past and he was surprised that the Christchurch, New Zealand native did not ground the ball in the left-hand corner.

“I don’t know why he didn’t try to get the ball down earlier, to be honest,” Penney remarked, “but it’s a great Christmas present for us.”

Pumping water

Connacht shipped 13 points in a seven minute period either side of half-time after hooker Jason Harris-Wright was sent to the sin bin.

Penney told TG4, “It’s a real credit for them that they came out after the break and really had us under the pump.”

While Connacht enter the festive period third from bottom in the Pro12, Munster are up to third in the table and within touching distance of second-place Scarlets.

Mike Sherry of Munster, the sponsors man-of-the-match, was focused on a Thomond Park clash with league-leading Ulster next weekend but Penney will allow his troops some time to bask in another victory in Galway.

“It’s always satisfying to be in the hunt,” said the coach.

“We’ll celebrate on the 25th and then get ready for a massive night in Thomond.”

As it happened: Connacht v Munster, RaboDirect Pro12

VIDEO: This Andrew Trimble try was the best thing about Ulster’s win over Leinster

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