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Munster March On As Connacht Let Lead Slip

jmcconnell 28 Mar 2008

A late converted try from Doug Howlett helped Munster to victory over a determined Connacht side, who were held scoreless during the second half at the Sportsground.

Munster came into this game off the back of last Saturday’s impressive 42-6 dismissal of Ulster, while Connacht’s 38-8 defeat at Edinburgh seven days ago was their third league loss on the trot.

The Munster starting line-up contained three ex-Connacht players in Paul Warwick, Tony Buckley and Jerry Flannery.

Despite their patchy form, the hosts had hopes of springing a surprise and ending their near 22-year wait for a win over their red-shirted rivals.

Indeed, recent Ireland coach Eddie O’Sullivan was the left winger in the Munster team that lost to Connacht back in November 1986.

Munster sprung a surprise by drafting Ireland flanker Denis Leamy in at inside centre and leaving Rua Tipoki, who is recovering from a back injury, on the bench ahead of next weekend’s European clash with Gloucester.

Mick O’Driscoll also missed out due to a back strain and his place in the second row went to Donnacha Ryan.

Leamy played a couple of times previously for the province at number 12 but he was used mostly as a decoy runner during a rain-hit first half.

Connacht, who had Conor McPhillips in at scrum-half for hip-injury victim Conor O’Loughlin, fell behind in the seventh-minute when old boy Warwick knocked over a simple penalty.

Munster were much the sharper in the early exchanges, with David Wallace, Peter Stringer and man-of-the-match Alan Quinlan particularly prominent.

In front of a 5,368-strong crowd, Andy Dunne did little for the Connacht cause when he let a drop-goal attempt screw off the outside of his right boot and the visitors got within sight of the try line minutes later.

Having made a neat break, Denis Hurley took the wrong option when passing inside in the 18th-minute, with Doug Howlett supporting him out wide.

A grubber kick from Warwick, with the Connacht defence caught flat, then had Howlett licking his lips for a try but the action was pulled back after the ball had nicked off referee Simon McDowell.

However, after Warwick watched his second penalty attempt bounce back off a post, Connacht really put their stamp on the game. Munster’s play dipped before the interval and the hosts took full advantage.

After a quick turnover, some excellent continuity involving Johnny O’Connor and McPhillips led to Keith Matthews barging past Donncha O’Callaghan and the pacy Daniel Riordan pounced to score in the corner.

Dunne’s missed conversion left the westerners 5-3 ahead at half-time but Munster reasserted themselves with a successful Warwick penalty two minutes into the second half.

Dunne crept a penalty to the left of the uprights and that looked a crucial moment, particularly as a Lifeimi Mafi bust through the middle almost had Munster over for a try.

Ronan O’Gara, who was sprung from the bench along with captain Paul O’Connell, kicked Munster into a 9-5 lead on the hour mark and Connacht then botched a chance at claiming a much-needed second try.

The westerners’ pack rumbled up close to the whitewash after Gavin Duffy had kicked a penalty to touch. Yet Connacht’s lack of patience and some streetwise play from Quinlan and company saw Munster hold out.

They made the game safe in the 77th-minute when All Black star Howlett intercepted a pass from Dunne to score his second try in red, and with O’Gara converting, a tird Connacht side had nothing in return.

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