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Connacht’s eight-match unbeaten run at the Sportsground was ended by Munster as the defending champions took the spoils in Sunday’s Magners League derby.
Fielding a back-line that included three debutants, Munster led 11-7 at half-time having played with the wind advantage, and a converted try shortly after the break from full-back Scott Deasy proved the decisive score.
Number 8 George Naoupu, who had another excellent game for Connacht, worked his way over for a try on the hour mark, but despite ending the game in the Munster 22, Michael Bradley’s men could not break down the red defensive wall.
The victory has moved Munster up to third in the league table, but Connacht, who host Leinster in a refixed match on Wednesday, will feel this was a missed opportunity.
In a very physical opening quarter, a much-changed Munster set the tone with a big hit by James Coughlan on Connacht captain John Muldoon.
A ruck infringement from Muldoon, four minutes in, was punished by a well-struck opening penalty from Paul Warwick.
After a missed drop goal attempt from Munster newcomer Declan Cusack, Connacht’s experienced lock Michael Swift got isolated after a meaty tackle from Dave Ryan and Warwick swept the resulting kick over for a 6-0 lead.
But Connacht’s first visit to the Munster 22, sparked by an Ian Keatley break, garnered them a well-taken try.
Sean Cronin added some directness to the attack with a powerful burst in front of th posts, and Niva Ta’auso’s neat offload sent Johnny O’Connor barrelling over on the right. Keatley’s pinpoint conversion made it 7-6.
Connacht continued to see plenty of ball but Munster’s big forwards were winning the collisions, as evidenced by Nick Williams’ hand-off on Naoupu in the lead-up to Niall Ronan’s 31st-minute score.
Williams thundered clear off a ruck, offloading for the supporting Tony Buckley to crash through and into Gavin Duffy’s tackle. With Connacht stretched, the overlap was created by Warwick on the right to put Ronan over in the corner.
Warwick missed the difficult conversion and also a penalty from inside his own half, while Keatley went wide from a left-sided penalty as the half ended with Munster four points in front.
The visitors increased their lead just two minutes after the break, as Williams sent Simon Zebo through a gap and the debutant winger popped a one-handed pass for Deasy to go over for a try which Warwick did brilliantly to convert.
Damien Varley, Buckley and workhorse captain Mick O’Driscoll rumbled forward to get Munster within sight of the line again, but some tremendous counter-rucking from Muldoon lifted the siege.
A deliberate knock on saw Zebo sin-binned and just a minute later, Naoupu used quick ruck ball to score in the left corner, although replacement Miah Nikora was off target with the conversion attempt.
It was nip and tuck right to the finish but Munster, with young tyros Dave Foley and Peter O’Mahony tackling their hearts out, had enough in reserve to see out their first away win in the league since September.