Munster seal Pro14 semi-final against Leinster by overcoming 13-man Connacht

The western province were shown two red cards and a yellow at the Aviva Stadium.

Munster 49

Connacht 12

CONNACHT WERE UP against it having made 14 changes to their starting team but they simply had no chance after first-half red cards for debutant number eight Abraham Papali’i and hooker Shane Delahunt followed an earlier yellow for flanker Conor Oliver.

To their credit, Andy Friend’s side ended a madcap opening 40 minutes by scoring a try through Bundee Aki when Munster had both captain Peter O’Mahony and Tadhg Beirne in the sin-bin, but the westerners were unable to resist a second-half surge.

Johann van Graan’s Munster scored seven tries in total as they secured their Guinness Pro14 semi-final clash against Leinster back at the Aviva Stadium next Friday evening. 

tadhg-beirne-celebrates-with-conor-murray-and-fineen-wycherley-after-scoring-a-try Munster celebrate Tadhg Beirne's second-half try. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

A five-day turnaround adds to the daunting task against Leinster, who rested their front-liners for last night’s win against Ulster, but van Graan was at least able to get key men O’Mahony, Conor Murray, CJ Stander, Tadhg Beirne, and JJ Hanrahan off for the final quarter against Connacht.

Referee Frank Murphy was a busy man even aside from the five cards he showed in the opening half, with a final penalty count of 21-16, Connacht being the more heavily penalised, highlighting just how fragmented the game was for long periods.

As such, Munster weren’t able to get into much of a consistent flow and they certainly weren’t error-free. Nonetheless, they came through this encounter seemingly unscathed in terms of injuries and now focus on the huge task of taking on Leinster next weekend.

The return of Beirne was timely following the huge blow of losing RG Snyman to an ACL tear last weekend, with the Ireland international named player of the match for a performance in which he looked fit, skillful, and aggressive as he made his comeback alongside Fineen Wycherley in a good second-row showing.

Munster’s breakdown ability was a feature of the game, with Beirne, O’Mahony, and Stander leading the charge in that area – one that Leinster will be keen to ensure doesn’t cause them issues in the semi-final.

As for Connacht, it was a disappointing end to their 2019/20 season as they now face into five weeks without a competitive game until the start of the 2020/21 Pro14 campaign. They will hope brighter days – more akin to last weekend against Ulster – are ahead.

chris-cloete-scores-his-sides-first-try Chris Cloete scores Munster's first try. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Munster made a quick start on a dry, still afternoon as Beirne and Stander combined for a jackal turnover before Keith Earls did superbly to win back a hanging Conor Murray box-kick to put them into a fine attacking possession, only for Papali’i to strip Stander in the Connacht 22.

But Munster kept the early pressure on and Oliver was sin-binned for slowing the ball when off his feet and the southern province’s pack fired with their close-range maul, flanker Chris Cloete dotting down at the tail as they shifted to the right cleverly.

With the impactful Damian de Allende carrying strongly, it was all Munster and they opted for a scrum under the posts as Connacht’s penalty count continued to rise, driving through the seven-man western pack for a penalty try and 14-0 lead before the first quarter was out.

Connacht had a five-metre chance of their own in the left corner soon after but O’Mahony made a trademark lineout steal and Munster cleared their lines. 

Papali’i, who had started promisingly and physically, was red-carded in the 26th as referee Murphy and his TMO adjudged his tackle on Conor Murray to have made contact with the scrum-half’s head with force.

abraham-papalii-red-carded-by-referee-frank-murphy Connacht's Abraham Papali'i is red-carded. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Connacht reacted well as they turned over a Munster maul in their 22 and then Aki earned a breakdown penalty.

But, just after a late hit from Munster’s Chris Cloete on Caolin Blade, Connacht’s task became even more daunting when Delahunt was sent off in the 35th minute for leading with his elbow/forearm into the neck of Stander as the number eight tackled him.

Within two minutes of Delahunt’s red, Munster had their third try as loosehead prop Jeremy Loughman barrelled over from close-range, Hanrahan converting for 21-0.

To their credit, Connacht showed mettle to get back into the Munster 22 before the break and O’Mahony was binned for jumping across the lineout and illegally disrupting their maul effort before Beirne also got a yellow card as Murphy felt the lock had been off his feet competing for a breakdown turnover.

With the clock well into the red, Aki powered over for his second try in two weekends but, after Munster had charged down early, Fitzgerald added the conversion for a half-time scoreline of 21-7.

Keen to take full advantage of being back to numerical equality, Connacht started the second half superbly as they took advantage of Munster’s lack of discipline to eke their way upfield for another five-metre shot, where they had a case for a penalty try but didn’t get the maul call, Munster surviving and welcoming O’Mahony back from the bin.

bundee-aki-celebrates-with-caolin-blade-after-scoring-a-try Bundee Aki celebrate his try just before half-time. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Munster duly went down the other end, where Earls had a possible try chalked off due to his foot being in touch as he finished, but it was only another minute before Beirne picked a beautiful line in midfield and broke clear off a brilliant pass from Murray to score.

Hanrahan converted and Munster proceeded to immediately break out of their own half from the restart as Chris Farrell, Beirne and Damian de Allende combined, with the Springbok centre offloading to give Conway a straightforward finish.

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Right wing Conway bagged his second try in the space of three minutes when he got on the end of Hanrahan’s grubber kick down the right-hand side, the out-half converting nicely from the touchline for a 40-5 lead.

Replacement loosehead James Cronin scored at the back of an unstoppable Munster maul in the 68th minute, with sub out-half and goal-kicker Rory Scannell slotting the conversion. 

Hooker Jonny Murphy managed to grab a consolation try for Connacht as the game entered the closing 10 minutes, as Munster then decided to remove de Allende from the line of fire for the final stages, meaning they ended the game with only 14 players. 

Munster scorers:

Tries: Chris Cloete, Penalty try, Jeremy Loughman, Tadhg Beirne, Andrew Conway [2], James Cronin

Conversions: JJ Hanrahan [5 from 5], Rory Scannell [1 from 1]

Connacht scorers:

Tries: Bundee Aki, Jonny Murphy

Conversions: Conor Fitzgerald [1 from 1], Conor Dean [0 from 1]

MUNSTER: Shane Daly; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Damian de Allende (removed from play by Munster ’74), Keith Earls; JJ Hanrahan (Rory Scannell ’58), Conor Murray (Craig Casey ’58); Jeremy Loughman (James Cronin ’46), Niall Scannell (Kevin O’Byrne ’55), John Ryan (Stephen Archer ’46); Fineen Wycherley, Tadhg Beirne (yellow card 40+7 to ’47) (Billy Holland ’62); Peter O’Mahony (captain) (yellow card ’40+5 to ’46) (Jack O’Donoghue ’55), Chris Cloete, CJ Stander (Jack O’Sullivan ’60).

CONNACHT:  Tiernan O’Halloran (Bundee Aki ’25); Colm de Buitléar (Conor Dean ’58), Sammy Arnold, Tom Daly, Diarmuid Kilgallen (Johnny Murphy ’40); Conor Fitzgerald (Stephen Kerins ’63), Caolin Blade; Paddy McAllister (Matthew Burke ’60), Shane Delahunt (red card ’35), Dominic Robertson-McCoy (Conor Kenny ’46); Niall Murray (Ultan Dillane ’53), Quinn Roux (captain); Eoghan Masterson (Seán Masterson ’53), Conor Oliver (yellow card ’8 to ’18), Abraham Papali’i (red card ’26).

Referee: Frank Murphy. 

About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from the Aviva Stadium

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